Thursday, July 27, 2006

Talk Talk.

So sorry about the delay in writing; I had lots of good stories, but all of them were too deeply enmeshed with Daughter, and would have involved exposing her life too much. And while I understand that in every day and every way, I am giving her future therapist plenty to wrestle with, making her the unwilling fulcrum of my little blog is one I can continue to try to avoid.

She will be involved in this blog, but only tangentially. Once, a long time ago, I was a reasonably interesting and funny conversationalist. I’m not saying I was being asked on the Sunday morning political shows or being invited to host the Oscars, but if I was on a topic I found interesting, I daresay I could make a dinner companion forget to eat his tuna carpaccio.

No more.

I have spent too many years spending a majority of my conversational energy talking to a small child, and I have been permanently damaged. My linguistic stumbles can be summed up in two phrases:

1. I state the obvious, and
2. I state the obvious repeatedly.

First things first. Recently, I was driving somewhere when I spotted a Yorkshire Terrier being walked down the sidewalk. I announced breathlessly, “Oh, look! There’s a Yorkie!”

Daughter and I like to look at animals, we like to talk about animals and we like to speculate and debate on the bloodlines of mixed-breed animals. We especially like small dogs, because they tend to be either cute or strange, and are frequently wearing outfits which become a whole secondary topic. One memorable day, we saw an extended family of Chihuahuas in traditional Mexican mariachi costumes.

In such ways, Daughter’s childhood passes.

Anyway, I went to the trouble of noting this dog, and waited for a response from the back seat. It was only then that I remembered Daughter was not in the car, and I was alone. Nonetheless, I was still kind of pleased about my small dog sighting. I was even more pleased I was alone. I’m not confirming this, but it’s possible I once shrieked “Ooh! Labradoodle!” while sharing a car with two adults I was trying to impress.

This is who I am now. I am the color commentator without any color. I say things like “Oh, good, you put on your bathing suit”, and “You hold the library books while I open the car door and then we’ll go to the library” and the incredibly insightful “Wash your face, please…oh, you’re washing your face already”. It’s as if I fear my brain might start playing “The Girl from Ipanema” if I leave a single moment of quiet.

Actually, to be completely accurate, the last phrase would have been more like “…Wash your face, please. WASH your face, with a washcloth, wash your face. Wash your face please. Oh, you’re washing your face already. You’ve already washed your face.”

And that is the other graceless part of my speaking pattern, the bit where I say everything repeatedly. On certain days, I sound as if I fell off of a second-story balcony and landed eyeball-first on a picket fence. But here’s the thing: I believe I need every single one of those words or my world grinds to a halt. To prove my point, we’re going to play a game. You, the reader, are going to be Daughter. I am going to play Quinn, a role I am hoping to pull off credibly.

You, Daughter, are in your room. You have been told three times that we are leaving. You were given fifteen’ minutes notice, ten minutes’ notice, and then five minutes’ notice to put on your socks and shoes. Your mother (Me) flies in the bedroom. You, as Daughter, are creating beds for Barbies out of your paperback books, all of which are on the floor. You have put on your socks.

QUINN: You must put on your shoes now.

Somewhere in your outer ear, this sentence gets trapped in a whorl and dies from lack of attention.

QUINN: NOW is the time to put on your shoes.

This sentence neatly leaps over the previous sentence dying in your outer ear, makes its way towards the smallest bones in the vicinity in the eardrum, and is summarily destroyed by a white blood cell which recognizes it as a foreign body.


You, as Daughter, are now confused. Mother is in your face, touching your shoulder to get your attention and speaking VERY CLEARLY. This is all puzzling; why is Mother going on about shoes? You aren’t wearing any. Clearly, this message is for Daddy. The third message reaches your brain and is quickly filed under “Mommy tells me things she really means to discuss with Daddy”

Mommy unaccountably grabs Barbie, trots to the kitchen, and places Barbie on the top of the fridge.


You, Daughter, realize Mommy is very, very emotional about something. You ask the only possible question.

DAUGHTER: What does “Indefinitely” mean?


Somehow, when Mommy does Lamaze breathing and starts subtly frothing, that serves to shake loose the fifteen or so previous versions of the same sentence.

Somehow, shoes are put on.

I then say perceptively, “Your shoes are on”.

And with that, I go looking for my keys.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Pizza To Go.

When most people eat food, they can smell and taste it. When most people eat the food they have smelled and tasted, they can get some sense as to whether it is, you know, edible. Most people view food poisoning as a fairly rare event in their lives.

It must be reiterated, I am not most people.

Thanks to countless sinus infections in childhood and adolescence, I have virtually no sense of smell, which has seriously compromised my sense of taste. Thanks to having virtually no sense of taste, I am fairly indifferent to what I eat, being as it is all perceived as a thousand shades of taupe, flavor-wise. This means that at least four times a year, I eat something which any sane person would have thrown across the room by virtue of smell alone, if not the taste. I, on the other hand, chew it contemplatively and think things like “Is egg salad supposed to be tangy?”

This was one of those weeks where food poisoning enters my life. Upon discovery of said food poisoning (a remarkably unsubtle malady), I went to my usual M.O., which is to drink nothing but water for hydration and fruit juice for some sugar to keep me going until the storm passes. This usually takes no more than a day. This time, however, I was into day three with no end in sight, and I was completely flummoxed. Why wasn’t I getting better? I was taking in nothing but water and juice, so how was it I was contemplating setting up the DVD player in the bathroom?

The first clue I had was when I went to pour the juice on the morning of day four and it oozed from the bottle like honey. The day before, it had been liquid; now, it was rapidly heading towards a solid state; I had been feeding the food poisoning beast three times a day. And readers, here’s where you get to talk about me behind my back; I still tasted it. It was odd, sure, but only slightly off. Then again, with the papier-mâché taste buds I have, I’m sure I was missing out on an experience other people would have called the EPA in to clear.

So, I’m better, and I’m in my thin pants, and that’s really what counts.

But it did remind me of something I had been meaning to do. Two nights before, a friend arrived from New York bearing an overnight bag and a huge cardboard pizza box which contained an honest-to-God New York cheese pizza inside, a sweet, generous, and lunatic act. I cannot imagine how excited the other flyers were to have their carry-on luggage lightly perfumed with oregano and dotted with grease.

Daughter and Consort ate pizza for dinner that night, more pizza than some good parents or partners might have tolerated, in fact. I drank my soon-to-be-discovered-was-poisoned juice and noted the pizza which was left; even with two people eating until illness, there were conservatively 425 pieces. Consort drifted back into the kitchen that night a few times, but we still had enough pizza to feed the Italian national soccer team, and I wasn’t expecting them this week. I fed pizza to Daughter for breakfast and encouraged Consort to have some for lunch. Consort looked worried. I spend most of my time saying to him things like “Pizza? Again?”; this was so out of character he must have thought the food poisoning bacterium was attacking my brain.

In the end, both of their trencherman abilities mattered not; the box was still taking up half the fridge, and I believed there were actually more slices than when we had brought it home. I de-prioritized this thought while battling food poisoning, but once on the mend, I knew I had to do battle with it. The pizza had been eaten and appreciated. We had thanked the giver profusely and sincerely. Now, the pizza had to go.

But I couldn’t make myself throw it away. It was delicious and highly edible, which gave it a leg up over most things I ate. Someone out there could use this food. Throwing out good food is a sin when you stop to consider the degree of want and privation in the world. It’s not as if I could have wrapped the pizza back into its box and sent it on its second plane trip, this time to the Sudan, to be of service, but someone needs feeding-

That’s it! A homeless guy! I could find one of the cardboard sign guys at a long stop light and give him a days worth of calories. If he had a dog, they could both partake.

But wait, I thought joyously, running to the cupboard, I can give them dessert as well!

Consort has a friend, an elderly woman, who has taken a great interest in Daughter without ever having met her. Having been a librarian before she retired, she kindly sends Daughter slightly obscure books she thinks Daughter might like, which she nearly always does. Daughter writes her thank-you notes in return with little book reviews on the most recent reads; everyone seems to get what they need.

Lately, however, this wonderfully kind woman has taken to sending Daughter bags of a particular kind of store-bought cookie. Nobody in the house is a fan of them, but I have yet to find in any etiquette book how to politely decline a food gift, and while trying to figure out how to stop getting them without hurting her feelings, we’ve gotten six bags. It’s going to look weird if we ask them to stop now. And I’m not sure it necessitates discussing, because I don’t think it costs her a great deal to buy them, it pleases her terribly to send them, and no one stands in front of us watching us eat them.

[In answer to your next question, she isn’t online, which is how I can talk about this here.]

So, I grabbed the two last bags of these cookies and, balancing them on top of the pizza box, weaved my way out to the car. I had a mess of small errands to do and all of them were on the side of town most likely to have someone begging for money at a stoplight. This would be easy.

A side note: my mother swears she can change every traffic light in Los Angeles. All she has to do is hold a lipstick tube in her hand as she drives, with the intention of applying lipstick at a stoplight. This will create a domino effect of green lights in front of her from Palm Springs all the way to Santa Monica. I have now found a corollary, which our city planners need to consider. For one afternoon this week, I fixed the homeless problem in Los Angeles; by dint of having something to give to a person in dire straights, I erased every single homeless person from the East side of Los Angeles.

Where were all the people waving signs at me when I was waiting to make a turn? Where was “Homeless and desperate” or “Six children and a Gulf War vet” or even “AIDS victim needs beer”?

Gone. All gone.

And do I have to mention that it was easily over a hundred degrees that day? And that even with the air-conditioning making the car a safe place to keep a milk product, I was starting to see little pools of grease first on the pizza box, then on the car seat, and finally on the passenger seat belt (I had to buckle it in; in the event of an accident, a box that size could have decapitated me)?

Finally, finally, while driving west on a busy street, I thought I saw a man hovering around the left-hand turn lane on the east side. Of course, I had to drive through a street repair and make an illegal u-turn in order to get back to where he was, but he was there! Clearly, the memo detailing how all homeless people should hide from Quinn hadn’t reached him!

I jammed the box out of my window, only bending it slightly so it might fit, and tossed the cookies over to his waiting hands. Meanwhile, everyone behind me wished me dead; that left-hand lane is blessed with the shortest green arrow on earth, more of a competitive sporting event rather than actual traffic help, and I had just wasted one precious light handing what appeared to the drivers behind me to be a piano box.

You know what’s good about being me and having virtually no sense of smell? Sure, I have no idea of when food has spoiled, and Consort is forced to apply my perfume for me, so I don’t accidentally put on enough to kill canaries, but right now my car smells like baked pizza grease, and I can’t smell it at all.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Head and Shoulders Above the Crowd.

(On my daughter’s life, this is my last skull-centric blog for a while. But I did want to bring you up to speed, what with all of your kindness and well wishes. And to the person who asked after my voice, I am back to my usual husky whining bark)

Friday, I went back to the plastic surgeon’s office. This time, I was prepared to find the doctor waiting in the examining room for me. I was not, however, expecting to find his partner there as well; I had the total combined surgical knowledge in that office standing in one room. For twenty minutes, some poor woman’s breasts were going to remain unaugmented while they took turns staring at my scalp.

Primary Doctor wasted no time.

“The MRI results show no indication of any infection at all, which is pretty amazing, considering.”

I was thrilled, in the way only a person who just found out she won't be spending the next six weeks attached to an IV tube can be.

“So, the surgery is on?”

“Yeah, we’ll open you up, burr down the bone, and put bone wax on any area which bleeds excessively.”

I was slightly less thrilled. Surprisingly, it wasn’t about the part where they use a power sander on my head, as I knew that was inevitable. It wasn’t even about this new substance called bone wax, which sounded to me like something teenage boys would attempt to purchase while in Tijuana.

I asked suspiciously, “Why would any area of bone bleed excessively? Since when did bone become excessively vascular?”

Side note: I have spent more time than is ladylike in emergency rooms, waiting to have something looked at. I am also a frustrated doctor who has been known to read medical texts for pleasure. I use words like vascular freely. This is not something which pleases most doctors, as I am the worst combination of knowledgeable and ignorant.

“Well,” the doctor said slowly, “I like to describe bone as being kind of like an ice-cream sandwich. The sandwich part, well, that’s bone, and the ice-cream part is-“

“Bone marrow,” I interrupted, “but what does that have to do with excessive bleeding? Are you expecting the bone marrow to be thicker there? Because I’ve told you, my new slogan for anything to do with this bump is NO MORE SURPRISES.”

He sighed.

“I know. You’ve told me. I’m just saying that we can’t see what’s going on inside the bone until we get in there.”

I digested this.

“Now, let’s take a look at that head.”

I undid my hair. Doctors crowded around and murmured to each other and to my bump.

The Secondary Doctor spoke up. ”You’ve healed.”

“I know.”

“You’ve healed an incredible amount since last week.”

Primary Doctor measured the bump with something. Numbers were discussed in hushed tones.

Primary Doctor said, “I wasn’t expecting anything like this kind of healing.”

He sounded as if, as a medical student, he had been privy to some plastic surgeons’ bible which said And yea, when the one who carries the growth up her head comes upon your office and demands of the excision, and grows of the epidermis in immoderate ways before her follow-up appointment, know that end of days are upon thee.

I’m used to be a medical oddity; I forget that medical types look at me, think “Human being” and become unsettled when I don’t behave like one.

More head murmuring. Then the doctors leaned over and talked to my actual face.

Primary doctor said, “Since you don’t have an infection, the immediate need to close the spot has diminished a bit. I mean, I still need to close it, but it would be easier to do it with more skin. You’re making new skin much more quickly than we anticipated. I could do the operation next week, but stitching through your new skin right now would be like stitching through hamburger and then trying to throw it around the room; it wouldn’t stay together. If we wait a while, it will be like stitching through steak. You could throw that around the room all day.”

First the ice-cream sandwich bone, and now the heretofore unknown game of sutured meat-flinging. It was medicine as practiced on the Food Channel. I will awake in the outpatient surgery center with a reduction of pomegranates drizzled on my forehead.

And using these metaphors with most of his clients would have been nearly useless; these women don’t eat. Use a metaphor about how a tummy-tuck is like the dressing room at Fred Segal’s. That, they would understand.

The Secondary doctor continued to stare at my head.

“I’m just shocked at how much it’s healed.”

I was going to explain how I could have told him that last week, because my chin had started to itch, and that always presages a growth spurt over the bone, but I felt they considered me odd enough. No sense in having them call Security.

We made plans. I am to come in every week so either one of them can stare at my head, and continue to monitor the freakish skin growth and the lack of infection. When there is enough steak, I will come in and have the surgery; soon after that, I imagine, I can be thrown around the room.

I asked, “Another question. Is this going to affect my appearance? I mean, you do lovely work, but I kind of like my eyebrows where they are.”

Both doctors snorted in unison. The Primary doctor said, “I wish a forehead lift was so simple. No, it won’t change your appearance. But,” he said, looking down from my bump to my face,”you could certainly benefit from a light brow lift.”

There are moments when I am grateful for small things. He didn’t use a food metaphor to explain my decay. I wasn’t really ready to hear about fallen soufflés or wizened apples.

“Thanks,” I said as evenly as I could, “but I’ll just bask in having a round head for a while. Too many improvements at once might make me giddy.”

So, here’s where I am: once a week, the inspection; at some point soon, the burring and the waxing. I am still actively encouraged not to climb Whitney, as I was given vivid anecdotes about what even a small fall could do to exposed bone; Consort suggested I wear a bicycle helmet for the entire hike, but I think enough people fear and pity me without benefit of accessories.

And with that, Gentle Reader, I am going to stuff my bump back into its hiding place for a while. The god of osteomas willing, the next time you hear about it will be me crowing about how it’s done, and nothing went wrong, and nothing was weird, and how I can wear my hair down again.

Because when it comes to this thing, I don’t ask for beauty, or youth, or a smooth forehead and aviating eyebrows; all I want is NO MORE SURPRISES.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Feed Your Head.

(When last we left our unusually-shaped heroine, she was learning that her slowly-healing head wound would necessitate a trip into the OR within a week)

I will say this; the plastic surgeon was absolutely mesmerized by my skull. Had I put a wee little plasma-screen TV up there and shown first-run movies, he couldn’t have been any more attentive. Did I say “He”? I meant “They”, because within a few minutes, he had brought his medical partner in to gaze at my head and get another opinion. He then took a digital picture and sent an email to his mentor at UCLA, in order to gather another opinion.

It’s humbling to realize my next appearance in print won’t be as a writer but as the lead article in the Journal of Cranial Anomalies.

They all came to the same conclusion; the skin was healing, but the bone sticking out put me at some great risk of a bone infection. “Osteomyelitis,” the surgeon pronounced, “is very serious. The treatment would be several weeks of IV antibiotics.”

This is good news. Because I handle bed-rest so well.

He tapped at my head some more.

“Have you been experiencing any pain?”

I thought, but did not say, “You mean before you started going all Tito Puente on my head?” Because he didn’t seem like the type for levity under these circumstances, and my habit of joking when nervous might make him think I’m starting to rave from bone infection. The thing was I was dazzled by the change in circumstance. I had been fine, I had been healing, and now it turned out I was neither. Or, rather, I was healing wrong and had some tragically low standard for “fine”.

He was talking about the MRI I had to have immediately, so as to rule out infection before surgery when a new and ugly thought occurred to me.

I asked “How long is the recovery time afterwards?”

He answered, as I imagined he would, “That’s impossible to say until I see what’s going on in there. I’ll have a better sense after the MRI.”

I said flatly, “I have a scheduled trip to climb Mount Whitney in the first week of August. I’m not going, am I?”

He flinched as if I had suggested removing the bump myself in the garage with the power sander.

“Oh God, no,” he said definitively. He then replayed what he had said in his head and must have remembered each American is endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that he couldn’t actually stop me from walking a long ways.

“Put it this way. If you were my sister, I’d argue very, very strongly against it. At the very least, a deep unhealed incision at that altitude would be very risky.”

Since this whole mess began because I chose to ignore the idea of the “Recovery period”, and because I have no real desire to have another plastic surgeon six months from now taking more digital pictures of my head, I will take him at his word. Within twenty minutes, I had a potential bone infection, a date with an operating room, and a big old STOP sign made just for me sitting at the Whitney portal.

I’ve had better hours.

As I drove home, I puzzled. Why had the doctor I had been seeing for nearly five months not noticed this potential risk? On top of everything else, was I going to have to find a malpractice lawyer? No, I decided; I was a casualty of the age of medical specialization. My original procedure was done by a dermatologist, and all follow-up care was done by him. Derma means skin; he watched the skin and since it was healing, albeit slowly, he didn’t see a problem. A plastic surgeon is a…surgeon. He sees all situations as variations on the question “Where should I cut to best correct this problem?”

[Had I somehow been in a proctologist’s office, he would have diagnosed the world’s most unexpected hemorrhoid]

If it hadn’t been for the fact that I did some reading that night and determined I actually was at some risk for a bone infection, and already knew I have the sort of medical luck which attracts the secondary problem which dwarfs the primary predicament, I’d have just let the healing take its course. But the bump needed to come off almost as much as I needed to be able to wear a new hairdo, so the die was cast.

I will say that the worst part so far has been calling Jill, my hiking partner, and giving her the news that the mission was aborted. She was nothing but gracious and supportive; she reminded me Whitney would still be standing there in September, and if not September, next year, which shows the kind of person she is and what fabulous taste I have in friends.

The MRI the next day was just the fetid little cherry on top of the rancid sundae. I had to drive an hour across town to be told by a sullen receptionist I was late and wearing the wrong bra (Any metal parts at all in one’s bra drives the MRI machine wild with desire, I guess. One must wear a sports bra). After leaving me to cool my heels a bit while pondering my tardiness, not to mention my under-wireness, she finally allowed me in.

They popped me into an MRI tube, which gives you the temporary sensation of either being a chambered bullet or Crest toothpaste. And then the noise began. I’ve had an MRI before, and I remembered it sounding like when you throw Keds in a dryer, but either I had put on a romantic glow on the event, or they were doing something entirely different this time.

All told, I spent about a half-hour in the machine, and I must tell you that I spent nearly all the time trying to figure out how I was going to describe the sound to you, and this is the best I could articulate.

Imagine chattering teeth.

Imagine them next to your head.

Imagine they are fifteen stories tall.

The plastic surgeon’s final words to me had been “I’m really worried about an infection. If you feel swelling around the bone or a headache at any time, please call the office.”

While I knew in the logical part of my brain that no one with a bone infection was likely to have kept up my schedule for the last three months, I had spent the better part of the previous night trying to decide if my head was swelling. And you know, if you obsess long enough about something, you can usually find it; I was completely convinced I had cranial swelling. Now, thanks to the Empire State Building of teeth, I also had a nice grinding little headache.

I had Osteomyelitis, I just knew it. I drove home saying brave and stoic things to myself like, “Oh, what’s a few weeks in bed?” and “You’ll finally finish your Christmas stocking” and “Now you’ll have no excuse not to read Proust”.

I was halfway done with the trip home when my doctor called.

He started with, “Hi, how are you?”

I answered smartly with, “I believe you know better than I do.”

But, of course, he didn’t. The results weren’t sufficiently clear, and he wanted me to go back to get another MRI on Tuesday. It was now Friday.

“But,” I whined. “What about Osteomyelitis? Should I be looking for any other symptoms? My feet sometimes itch when I hike, is that known to be a symptom of...“

“From the preliminary results, I think you’re safe. I just want to be absolutely certain before we close this up.”

He paused, and I could hear the bustle of his office behind him.

“You’re kind of an unusual case, you know.”

I smile for the first time all day and said quietly, “You have no idea.”

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Hole Story.

Last Monday, my hiking partner Jill picked me up at 5am and we drove to Mount Baldy, which is about an hour east of Los Angeles. In case you have ever thought of testing a friendship, I recommend driving together towards into the rising sun with an eleven-mile hike waiting for you at the other side. I was in especially fine form, considering as how I had been up until 1:30 am cleaning the entire house; one of the kittens had done something smelly in Daughter’s room, which led to a thorough cleaning of her room, which led to a “Well, as long as I’m wet-mopping the hallway, I might as well polish all the wood furniture” manic attack.

That morning, I smelt of beeswax and fear. Jill had done this hike, I had not, but I had read about it. Baldy Bowl is a dauntingly steep rocky climb, which leaves you at a little over 10,000 feet, which is where Whitney starts, making it a great training hike. I’ll spare you the details of the hike; suffice to say, three hours after we started, Jill and I were standing on the very top, gazing meditatively down at the world below us and admiring the lack of bees, which finally stopped stalking us with about a quarter mile to go. I can’t say as I felt great, but I didn’t feel bad, and there was no indication of altitude sickness, so that bode well for Whitney.

We made our way back down, with only a couple of sliding falls for me where I learned, yet again, how a hiker cannot simultaneously adjust her IPod, drink from her canteen, and step confidently across a narrow scrabble-stone path. Luckily, the IPod remained unscathed, as did the canteen. We got back to town, bid our farewells, and I began the delicate process of removing hiking boots from puffy and sweaty feet, followed by the excitement of removing a dozen sharp pebbles from my kneecap.

I continued to feel fine. While I certainly would be taking the altitude-sickness pills up to Whitney, there seemed every likelihood I wouldn’t need them. I was a warrior! I was made of the blood of adventurers and leaders!

I awoke the next morning unable to speak.

Literally, not a word. I was reduced to pointing at objects and squeaking. Daughter and Consort found this so entertaining that I believe they made up reasons to ask me questions.

Being as I am me, this happened on Fourth of July, thereby assuring me of no possible medical intervention unless I wanted to go the ER, sit in the waiting room and see with my own eyes the tragic consequences of jamming a sparkler down your brother’s pants. I squeaked and pointed through our day of national liberty. The next day, I went to see my ENT specialist -- a statement I make with disheartening regularity as my respitory system would not work any less efficiently had it been installed upside-down.

I approached the examination assuming this would be some strange form of altitude sickness, some variant that heretofore was only seen in Bonobo monkeys, because that’s the kind of karmic path I walk. But I was mistaken. I had a sinus infection. A sinus infection which had gone into my throat and ears, and I also had asthmatic bronchitis. I thought, but didn’t bother to mention, how the asthma might possibly have been exacerbated by crawling under the cat cage with a vacuum cleaner and Swiffering the entire laundry room the night before I hiked. I don’t like telling the doctor things like that; he just gets this pained look. He prescribed the usual assortment of meds, and included a steroid-based inhaler for my voice.

I squeaked, “Steroids affect healing, right?”

He said, “They can.”

“Because I have this…thing. And it’s healing. And I don’t want to risk...”

“Let me see," he interrupted, kindly.

I undid my hair and pointed to the slowly healing hole in my head. He looked at it. The silence was damning.

Finally, he said, “I’m making an appointment for you to see a plastic surgeon tomorrow.”

“But, the skin is healing!”

“Quinn, I’m looking at your skull.”

Really, one couldn’t argue with that. Especially when one was squeaking.

He gave me three choices of plastic surgeons I could see. I picked the one he recommended most strongly. He called the surgeon's office, there were a few murmured words, those of which I overheard were along the lines of “No, Jack, you have to see this” and the next thing I knew, I had an appointment for the following morning.

Clearly, this was a posh doctor.

To begin with, I was in Beverly Hills, on one of the major streets. Also, decorating the walls were framed pages from W magazine, indicating my new doctor is one of the surgeons people in the know use in order to look mildly surprised on a permanant basis. And finally, all of his nurses and receptionists were attractively sporting one of the three options of nose and two variations of upper lip he is best known for. I was whisked in to find the doctor waiting for me in an examining room. This was a first. I had already purloined four months worth of Town and Country magazines from the waiting room to help endure the wait for his arrival. But here he was waiting for me. Clearly, my ENT doctor had built my head bump up, as it were.

I sat in a chair and undid my ponytail. The doctor stared. The doctor poked. The doctor stared a little more.

“You’re going into the operating room next week.”

Next time, things get complicated and plans change.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Shelter Me.

Her name was Nomi, and she while she wasn’t the last dog I would have picked at the shelter, she was certainly in the bottom ten. I had taken Daughter to the shelter the previous day to do a little reconnaissance work and settle on the dog to show Consort; I imagined a cheerful, eternally smiling dog of such raffish ancestry that the only sure thing would be that both parents had been some kind of dog.

Let me tell you a little bit about this shelter. If you are a dog or cat alone in this world, you pray to be picked up by these people. It’s a no-kill shelter with shaded outdoor kennels; in the summer, the workers mist the floors of the kennels for coolness. And there’s no such thing as impetuous pet-adopting there. Before you even meet a dog, you fill out an application detailing your previous pet experience, your current housing situation, your expectations for this pet; I only wish someone could have made me conduct such a thorough examination of my soul before I picked certain boyfriends.

I finished my application, and explained to the volunteer that I had a six month-old bundle of love, gesturing toward my daughter in her car seat, who was mesmerized by a kennel full of chickens, and a fairly densely-packed life. I wanted an easy, un-dramatic, adult dog who wouldn’t bother our cat. The volunteer said thoughtfully, “I think Nomi’s the right dog for you”.

If one can be said to skip while carrying an infant car seat, I fairly skipped behind this woman toward the kennel. We passed darling Lab puppies with paws like dinner plates; exuberant small dogs prancing in circles, desperate for our attention; seasoned older dogs, pushing their noses at the bars for a scratch. What wondrous dog had she planned for us?

We got to the last cage. On the ground, lying curled up in a ball was a dog of a variety known for freakish amounts of energy and very little sense. This, however, was more like an area rug.

The volunteer called, “Nomi?”, and was rewarded with a sigh.

A depressed area rug.

She unlocked the cage, and Nomi looked up. Once she realized she had visitors, she got to her feet, her entire body exuding indifference. The volunteer snapped on the leash to take all of us to the meeting area, and explained a bit of Nomi’s story as we walked. She was somewhere between four and six and had been owned by an older person who died, and the dead person’s relatives had brought her in on New Year’s Day. I was there on February 1st.

“She’s been here a month?”

“Yeah. She doesn’t show very well.”

This was putting it mildly. I sat down on the bench in the meeting area, and Nomi stood in the corner, staring at the ground. When called by me, she walked over and gazed at me neutrally. Her entire body fairly sang “You’ll forgive me, but I’ve done this about a hundred times already, and you’re not going to take me, so I don’t really feel like faking it. Also, I just want to go home.”

The volunteer scratched her ears and said worriedly, “She’s a lovely girl; she just misses her owner so much that no one gets to see how sweet she is. She loves cats, she gets along with everyone, she’s crate-trained and house-broken and she’s been here so long…”

Nomi sighed and put her head on the bench next to my leg, and slowly, I started to feel the most dangerous and ill-advised of all of my emotional states:

I can fix this one.

Which is how Consort and I ended up at the shelter the next day, looking down at a depressed area rug being snapped onto a leash; if she remembered me at all, it wasn’t lifting her mood any.

The first meeting as a family didn’t exactly inspire “Your best friend can be found at your local shelter” anecdotes. I threw a ball; Nomi stared at it and sighed. Consort called her to him, she feigned deafness. But there were moments; unbidden, Nomi came up to me and sniffed at Daughter in my lap. Consort scratched her back and she leaned against him. For one shining second, she played with a bug she found under a plant. There was a dog in there, and it was a dog with another emotion besides terrible sadness.

I looked up from Daughter and Nomi and looked hard at Consort. He was dazed, and it wasn’t just jet lag. I took pity on him and suggested we leave for an hour or so, go get some lunch and talk it through.

Nomi was dropped off at her kennel and before she fell into her usual stupor, her eyes followed us down the corridor.

At the restaurant, we talked about everything but Nomi, and I started to feel terrible guilt. Consort didn’t want a dog; if Consort had wanted a dog in his life, he would have had one, and he had never chosen to have a dog in his entire adult life. I didn’t need a guard dog; I could just sleep with a Maglight under the pillow when he was out of town. I didn’t need another pet, I just wanted one, and Consort loved me enough to want whatever I wanted that badly.

“Honey,” I said without preamble, “let’s not get a dog right now. She seems sweet, but we’ve got a cat and an infant and it’s enough.”

If he looked even slightly relieved, I would let him off the hook.

He looked startled.

“But who else is going to take our dog?”

Because I am not the only one in the house who hears the siren call of I can fix this one.

She has been our dog for several years; she knows us, and I think likes us, but I am not entirely certain she loves us. I think she had room for one person in her heart, and it was the person who died (I suspect it was an older woman, due to the disproportionate joy she has always taken in my mother’s nearness). For our loud and complicated house, she has the polite puzzlement of a foreign exchange student with no working knowledge of the host’s language or culture.

For the first time in my life, I view the pet in my house as an animal, and not a family member. This comes back to what I was talking about in the first part of this; your pet is as much a reflection of you at the time of the pet’s life as it is the pet’s personality. The dog came into a house where I already had a small person who I adored and who needed constant care.

This isn’t to say we have slacked in our responsibilities; her shots have been keep current, her teeth are pretty much intact, and when she choose to eat an entire stomach’s worth of the indigestible or get bitten by a rattlesnake, one of us ran her to the canine ER.

But she’s growing old, and I am looking at the end of her life with a lack of the stress I usually have over losing a pet. We will make sure she lives comfortably, and when that comfort isn’t there any more, we will make the only kind choice. And on that day I will whisper to her about the winter afternoon we took her to the beach in Montecito, where dogs are allowed. The dog spent hours chasing seagulls with a glee that was only matched by the seagulls’ glee in teasing her.

I will whisper to her of that while she shuts her eyes, and I will hope she knows I loved her, if not as much as I have loved some dogs, as much as I was capable of loving any dog right now. And I will hope that was enough.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Dog Days.

(This one shouldn’t be two parts, but I have to get up at 5am tomorrow in order to hike Mount Baldy before the full force of the midday sun scorches me into something you scrape off your Weber grill)

Many years ago, before Daughter was even a glint in the eye of a Polly Pockets retailer, a friend told me a story of coming home from the hospital with her brand-new son.

They stepped carefully into their 900 square-foot Park Slope, Brooklyn apartment, and my friend went to sit on the couch with her son as her husband moved in the 400 square feet of presents their tiny son had accumulated in the twenty-four hours since being born. As she sat there gazing rapturously at her son, their cat jumped on the couch and stared balefully at her, in that way much-loved cats do when you’ve been gone two days and have an interloper in what they know is their lap.

“Wow,” thought my friend, “Katrina’s a cat”.

When I first heard this story, I’m sure I thought something like “Well, yes. The meowing might have clued you in to that”.

But she was right, and I was a big snotty snot-box know-nothing. What, before parenthood, is a darling near-child without the burden of school tuition fees becomes, after parenthood…a pet. A loved pet, perhaps even a living thing with a better and more regular diet than some children in emerging nations, but it’s still an animal. I’m not sure I’d want to see the dynamics in a family where the pet took its old position of precedence.

My parents had a dog when I arrived, a half-German Shepherd, half-coyote named Ginger, and while that combination would strike some as only playing with a baby in preparation for eating it, they would be wrong. Ginger gave up her position as Principal Baby of the house without a peep, because I, as an infant, was a far more compelling thing for any dog with shepherding blood; I was a job. Working breeds, like German Shepherds, need things to do, otherwise they make their own fun, and it usually involves your most expensive shoes meeting their powerful shredding teeth.

To her way of thinking, Ginger was given the job of a lifetime.

I would squeak in the bassinet, and she would run and get my mother, barking and nosing her until she came to see me.

I would cry, and Ginger’s greatest agitation seemed to be that she couldn’t develop opposable thumbs fast enough to change my diaper or bandage my knee.

As I grew, she developed all the talents the dog of a small girl needed; she would eat whatever vile vegetable I could slide to her under the table, she wore any outfit I put on her, and she would sleep next to me every night, no matter how hard it got for her to get up there as she got older. When she died when I was fourteen, I cried for days, I think as much for this irrevocable end of a part of my childhood as much as the not-surprising death of a very old dog.

But that’s what pets are, Quinn says self-importantly; they are as much a reflection of who you are at the time they are in your lives as they are a reflection of their own personalities. Think back to my friend, her newborn, and her cat. Did the cat change in the two days since she and her husband went to the hospital? Doubtful, unless you count the hairball she left somewhere unexpected as a symbol of her displeasure with the babysitter.

My friend changed, so her relationship with the cat changed, so the cat was changed. Something tells me the cat wasn’t getting her tuna nuked for eight seconds, to take the chill off, anymore. Something tells me the cat somehow survived this.

Dog entered our lives when Daughter was six months-old. Consort had gone out of town on a trip that was part business, part pleasure. This was to be Daughter and my first week alone. Consort asked, repeatedly, if we were going to be okay without him. I believe I actually scoffed.

“I lived by myself for years. YEARS! She’ll be fine, the house will be fine, and I will be fine.”

She was fine. Turns out, I was not fine. Turns out, the house makes all sorts of noises every single night which sound exactly like someone breaking into it to hurt the mother and child inside in unspeakable ways. Sometimes, the house would make noises which sounded like someone disabling the alarm system before breaking in to do unspeakable things. I believe I slept no more than ten minutes at a stretch.

I wanted a dog to protect us when Consort was out of town; worst-case scenario, and the dog’s barking didn’t strike fear, I figured, I could at least throw the dog at an intruder, giving Daughter and I enough time to get out through a window or something. Since I wasn’t aware of a company which allowed you to rent a dog as needed, I was going to have to get a full-time dog. Also, Daughter liked dogs; she squealed with joy when one licked her toes. Of course, she also squealed with joy when they replaced the tape in the grocery-store register; life is a medley of extemporized entertainment for the under-one crowd.

Every day that he was gone, Consort would call. For the first three days, I kept up a brave front. But by day four, I was exhausted, cunning, and looking to close the deal. Pity Consort had no idea we were negotiating…



“Hi, it’s me! You sound tired; didn’t she sleep well last night?”

“Oh, she slept fine. So, remember how you asked me what you could bring me back?”


“I have a gift idea, and it won’t cost you anything”

“Go on.”


“We get rid of the television, as I have suggested before. You basically use it like talking wallpaper and it is a huge time-suck and it will force our daughter to worship Elmo.”




“We get a dog.”

“What kind of dog are we getting?”

Yes, readers. It went like that.

He got home Friday night, and we were at the shelter first thing Saturday morning. As far as he knew, this was a looking trip only; as far as he knew, he had all the dog-free time in the world.

I knew he was traveling again in three weeks.

I might have implied this was my first trip there, which might have been belied by the unswerving path I was taking towards one particular cage and the amount of people working there who said “Oh, hello Quinn. Back to see Nomi again?”

To be continued…