Monday, April 18, 2011

Frog in the Throat

It was bound to happen, when you stop and think about it. Over the last six months or so, I've noticed some unsettling signs - sudden shortness of breath, wheezing, the feeling of something being stuck in my throat, nasty hacking - all of these are bad signs for anybody, but when you make your living teaching people effective means of communication, well . . . it's really not fun.

I had a pretty good idea of what was going on and I didn't like it much. See, somewhere long ago and far away, I was diagnosed with a "idiopathic subglottic stenosis." (This was after a year of being misdiagnosed as having adult onset asthma, but that's another tale.) In short, I have scar tissue in my windpipe, cause unknown. (Aside: Doesn't "idiopathic" sound so much better and more elevated than "darned if we know"? I keep wanting to use that in class - "Dr. Mockingbird, why are we all here? I mean, what's the meaning of life? So many philosophers and religious leaders have wrestled with those questions - tell me, what's it all mean?" "It's idiopathic." Maybe one day . . .)

Treatment requires check-ups and those involve a medical device that bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the proboscis of an anteater being inserted in the nose and down the throat. Said device is equipped with (oh, joy!) a camera, so we can then watch my larynx in action (or inaction, as the case may be). Anyway, I had a scheduled check up with my surgeon today and - let's just say I hit the trifecta. Narrowing in the trachea, allergies kicking up the symptoms, and a nasal polyp. Well, at least it's not all in my head. My head has been scanned, I have an appointment with a "sinus surgeon" about the polyp and surgery has been tentatively scheduled for July. (It's only mid-April now so clearly, it's nothing urgent, but seriously - this coughing and hacking and feeling stressed about coughing and hacking is very old by now.)

On the plus side, my doctors are top-notch. I was diagnosed when I was in school in Winston-Salem, which houses one of the top ear, nose, and throat research departments in the country, so I trust these guys. (Given a choice, always pick surgeons who write the books, instead of the the ones who read them.) Even so, not being able to quite catch my breath has noticeably increased my overall stress level which is already red-lining here at the end of the semester.

Then again, the marquee outside a gas station reminded me today that "Stressed spelled backwards is desserts" and that's knowledge that makes me feel better.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Take It Down a Notch

Back in January, I began a year-long course of self-evaluation in the area of body image. There were a few reasons for this - one, I had some weight I wanted to lose and two, I became curious about why numbers on a scale mattered so much to me. America is a looks-obsessed society - that comes as no shock to just about anyone. No one wants to age, except for the very young and Abercrombie & Fitch just got in hot water for marketing a push-up bikini top to seven-year-olds. We spend billions of dollars a year on goop in a jar to moisturize, exfoliate, firm, conceal, and/or color. Mind you, I like make-up - I think it's a hoot and I wish I'd had the gumption just once to put a purple streak in my hair. (And maybe some day I will.)

But we've just gotten out of control here.

Beauty standards change, of course. High heels have been used as a way to show off the male leg. And men preened like peacocks over the proper placement of wig curls. But overall, it's been the fairer (and less politically powerful) sex who have behaved like mooncalves over the use of cosmetics. Truly, for us, it's often been better to look good than to feel good. Women have been willing over the years to put any fool sort of poisonous concoction on their faces, provided it promised "youth in a jar." We'll strap ourselves into fiendish devices to accentuate certain body parts while downplaying others. We'll live on cabbage soup, take pills of dubious usefulness and avoid carbohydrates as if the Devil himself was in the kitchen. We've even been willing to break our daughters' feet to make them tiny and thereby adorable. (Bound feet also hampered natural movement, so good luck working and earning your own money to secure your independence. Don't tell me beauty isn't political.) Americans are "more civilized" than that, of course. We don't bind our daughters' feet, but we constantly hammer them with words and pictures that tell them what is desirable - and it's not realistic. Heck, it's not even reality.
Yet we buy into this nonsense. We starve, push, pluck, tweeze, and paint. Then we go further. We inject toxins into our faces, we undergo general anesthesia to "resculpt" ourselves - risking disfigurement and death - and we don't even ask "Are you Board-certified?" We celebrate the outside and ignore the development of the inside. There's a lack of balance and that's never good.

So I will continue to drink lots and lots of water. To eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. To exercise and increase my stamina and flexibility. These are all good things and I will take time (and make time) to do these things. And yes, I'll continue to wear lipstick and mascara and (just maybe) schedule a time to have that purple streak put in my hair. But I'll also keep reading and thinking and working on the inside. After all, you can always jam on a ball cap to hide bad hair, but it's a lot harder to cover up ignorance.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Throwing in the Towel

As anyone who has read Douglas Adams knows, it's of the utmost importance to always know the exact location of your towel. While I do, in fact, know the location of my towels, pretty much the rest of the house is in a state of disarray that is generally the result of having a half-dozen frat boys in residence, with perhaps a goat.


I like to think that I have many good qualities and I certainly appreciate beauty and order; I just don't seem to have the gift of creating that in my own surroundings all that often.

For the last month, I've fought this. I had plans, by which I mean I Had Plans. Over spring break, I was going to work on my presentation for this month's conference in San Antonio* and I was going to scrub, polish, and clean. Heck, I'd probably have time to learn Italian while I was at it!

It's good to have plans, isn't it?

So things didn't work out as I had planned and I was beginning to despair. Seriously - at some point the lines were crossed from "tolerable" to "messy" to "yike!" I felt like a sloven and I felt downtrodden about that. I mean, I can juggle the planning and grading of six college classes, maintain a healthy and loving relationship with my shiny-cyborg husband, eat decently healthy food (most of the time), research and write my independent work for presentation and publication, yet I can't manage to keep a clean house? Why is that?

Oh, right. It might be because of the work that goes into the planning and grading of six college classes, maintaining a healthy and loving relationship with my shiny-cyborg husband, eating decently healthy food (most of the time), as well as researching and writing my independent work for presentation and publication.

There are times where the sensible thing to do is to call in the professionals. It goes against my somewhat-Calvinist upbringing, but I'm having a very nice lady come in tomorrow and scrub, polish, and clean. I have a counter brimming with cleaning products ranging from white vinegar to Ka-Boom! and a trifecta of mops. I have been reassured that the remnants of Spooky-hair will vanish, my ceiling fan blades will gleam and my bathroom tile will sparkle.

And that, Dear Readers, is so very worth paying for, at least occasionally.

* By the way, do you think the defenders of the Alamo in what is now San Antonio worried about the cleanliness of the baseboards in the fort? Exactly. It's all about priorities. (Although they were fighting in large part for the right to keep their slaves, since Mexico had abolished slavery, so maybe that's not the best role model I could pick. Yeah - that part gets left out of the movies.)