Science People Doing Word Things and Other Surgery Microstories (Surgery Story Part 2)

I am feeling many Feels today, and this is not what I want to write. What I want to write is about “lazy learners” and faith transitions and the dissent of zealots, but I am not quite ready. So today, just continuing yesterday’s story. Sort of. Not even really a story, but a list of microstories, little things I want to remember about the day of my surgery:

  • The day before my surgery the surgical center called to confirm what time I should come in. She told me and I thought “I should write that down” but then I didn’t because I also thought “that’s not any earlier than getting up for a race, so no big deal.” BUT THEN. Then I woke up at about 2:37 in the morning in a panic. Did they tell me to come at 6:00, so I should get up at 5:15? Or to come at 5:00 so I should get up at 4:15? (Both are times I’ve gotten out of bed to run a race.) So then I fretted in bed for awhile and castigated myself for not listening to that “write it down” wise voice and I imagined all sorts of scenarios of what would happen if I got the time wrong. I even got out of bed, found the number of the surgery center, and called them. (It’s a same-day surgery center. No one answered at 3 in the morning.) Finally I actually woke up Kendell and said “what time did I tell you I needed to be there?” and he said “six, stop worrying, get some sleep” and you know? I’m STILL not sure what time I was actually supposed to be there, but if it was 5, no one said anything about me being 45 minutes late. (But then they also didn’t say anything about me being 15 minutes early, so…)
  • Just this moment: walking from the car into the building. It was still midnight-dark at 5:45 in the January morning, and so cold, but the stars looked so bright. They calmed my nerves and made me feel like it would be OK.
  • I intended on painting my toenails. I did not paint my toenails. I went into foot surgery with naked toenails, which is kind of obscene...
  • When I was changing out of my clothes (I wore flannel pjs because that seemed like the easiest thing to put on after the surgery) into the surgery gown, there were nurses standing outside the changing room. One of them said “today is a cool date, January 12, 2021. 1/12/21” and another one said “it’s like…ummmm, there’s a word for it? Like mom or wow?” and they couldn’t get there so after thinking ahhh, cute, science people trying to do word things!” I said “it’s like a palindrome” through the changing-room curtain. (It is almost a palindrome, but not really, but that’s OK because at least I had the word they were searching for, if using incorrectly.)
  • I had to pee in a cup so they could do a pregnancy test before my surgery. I had a four-minute panic thinking what if it’s positive? I mean…I love babies and I love my kids but I’m almost 49 years old. It’s someone else’s turn to test positive. (I was not pregnant.)
  • The usual compliments about my gorgeous veins when my IV was inserted.
  • The doctor had me write “yes” on the foot he was supposed to operate on, just to be sure. I found this to be oddly positive so I added an exclamation point. I wish I would’ve also drawn a smiley face.
  • It was so strange to be the patient instead of being the patient's spouse. SO WEIRD.
  • The anesthesiologist came into the pre-op room to talk to me. He was awesome. He told me about every step of the process and what I could expect. He told me that he and my surgeon had discussed my case the night before, and decided they wanted to ask me if they could do a nerve block on my leg. Apparently this is a new thing they do, both the anesthesia and the block so that there’s no pain for 18-24 hours after the surgery. I told them that was great, but what really struck me about this was imagining them talking on the phone the night before about me. It made me feel like they both really wanted to make sure they surgery went well, like I was a person who mattered instead of just a patient.
  • There were a bunch of people in the room before they wheeled me out and down the hall to the surgery room, so Kendell stepped out to make room. Which means I didn’t see him or tell him goodbye or hear him tell me good luck and I was just high enough on whatever they put in the IV to calm you down that I thought about turning around and shouting “where the hell are you, Kendell!!?!?” but not so high as to actually do it.
  • I did not believe I would actually go under with the anesthesia. But my last memory is of them telling me to scoot onto the table and I said “aren’t you going to 1-2-3 lift me?” If they actually had me count down from 10 like you see on TV, I forgot!
  • My first thought when I woke up: I HAVE TO PEE. RIGHT NOW. Those were also my first understandable words. Luckily the nurse believed me and got me there in time. I’m totally OK with being the nerdy patient who knows stuff about words. I am NOT ok with being the patient who pees the bed!

(You can read Part 1, where I explain how I got to the point of needing surgery, HERE.)

Torn Plantar Plate Surgery Story: Part 1

I just realized it’s been almost an entire year that I’ve been dealing with my toe issue, so I thought I’d write about how my injury happened (even though I don’t really have an amazing story to tell!)

I’ve been wearing orthotics for about five years now, ever since I started having capsulitis in my second toe on my left foot. (This is inflammation in the joint that connects your toe to your foot.) I wore them in both shoes to keep things even, although my right foot didn’t hurt in the same way. Then, last year after our epic May hike to Silver Glance Lake, my right second toe started hurting in the same way.

view of Timp along the way to Silver Glance Lake
The hike to Silver Glance Lake was epic because of the fresh May snow up there!

Since I was already wearing orthotics to help with capsulitis, I wasn’t sure what to do. At first, like all good runners, I just ignored it. Shook it off. But it kept getting worse so finally I visited my podiatrist.

We tried several different things. Some taping with an extra insert to relieve the pressure on the toe joint (didn’t work). Shorter runs. Then fewer runs. Then a week off. Still hurting. So I got a cortisone shot, which helped for a little while. I kept running and building up my mileage, but about a month later it started hurting again. This time I got a second shot and then took three weeks off from running. (I was still hiking, though.) I stretched, I massaged, I iced. It was feeling pretty good at the end of the three weeks, so one day I thought OK, this is it…going to start running again today.

Kendell and I went to Costco and then we went to a park where I intended on starting my run. I would run home from there, only about two miles from home, and start out slow, walking for three minutes, running for two. Before he left, I asked him to take a running pic for me, because I wanted to write about how that “first run back” felt, and it is much easier for him to just take it than for me to find a spot to prop my phone and then work with the timer for a few attempts. I walked a bit to warm up my legs, got him positioned, and started running toward him.


running in the park
Five or six steps in...already hurting

I think it was either my third or fifth step, maybe my seventh. But just seconds into my run, something tore on the bottom of my foot. I didn’t really hear it, but the tear felt like a sound. Like the sound of wet cotton fabric tearing. It stopped me in my tracks (luckily Kendell had gotten a few shots already!) but I tried to shake it off. Shake, shake, shake, literally, just shook my foot. Rotated my ankle in circles. Wiggled my toes. Walked a bit. Then I tried running back toward him, and yeah: No. It was super painful and my toe felt wobbly.

So instead of running home I hobbled back to the car and had him drive me home.

This was the day before we were going to leave for our trip to California to visit Nathan. I had all sorts of plans for going running with him while we were in Monterrey, and he had a gorgeous route all planned out. But…running? I couldn’t even really walk well. With EVERY step, my toe would either slip into or out of joint, depending on where it was on the previous step. On our first day there, we walked around the beaches on Thirteen Mile Drive and gah…it was uncomfortable. Even worse than normal on the sand with bare feet. (But oh. It felt so good to hold my foot in the cold water!) So, no running on the beach during that trip. No nice long run with my soldier son on his favorite route. Just dislocating my toe over and over.

After months of wrangling with my health insurance, I finally got an MRI scheduled. (Side rant: They kept pushing back with things they wanted me to do before I had the MRI. Time off of running. A cortisone shot. PT. Two weeks of taking an anti-inflammatory. All things that I had already done and THEY HAD ALREADY PAID FOR.) The results only confirmed my podiatrist’s diagnosis of a torn plantar plate, the thing we were trying to avoid. Because my doctor’s surgery schedule was full into November, I decided to just wait until January so I could have an entire year of being at my deductible.

This is a great picture to explain what I tore:

plantar plate tear

That tendon helps to hold your toe into the joint where it joins your foot. You have one for each toe, but the second toe is the one most often torn.

While I waited for my surgery, my toe continued to slip in and out of joint. I almost got used to it. I found the ONE pair of shoes I could wear at work that held my foot flat enough to keep the joint stable so it didn’t pop around as much. As the tendon got worse, sometimes the toe would be so out of joint it was just lodged on the top of my foot. (Fairly unpleasant.) Thankfully, I could still hike. At this point, nothing but a surgery would fix it, so staying totally off of it wouldn’t repair it, and my hiking boots also held it enough that I wasn’t miserable. But running…running was out, because the real issue is the point of bending as the foot pushes off the ground in the running stride. Torn tendon made that nearly impossible. So I held on to my mental health by hiking as much as I could.

And that is the story of how I ended up needing a foot surgery. No big dramatic injury, no great story to tell. I just, you know. Sort of wore it out!

Up tomorrow, details about the surgery itself.

Thoughts on Walking

A few weeks ago, when I was approaching the doctor appointment where I would likely be able to stop using my crutches and put some weight on my foot—actually walk!—I grew more and more nervous. Eight weeks (and two days) is a long time to go without walking, and my mind just sort of stopped being able to imagine my body moving that way. I coached myself through the nerves by reminding my brain that I’ve been walking for, oh…47 years. I even asked my older sister if she remembered any stories about when I started walking as a baby, or if I was an early or late walker (alas, she did not).

I worried and fretted and had bad dreams until finally that appointment came. My podiatrist fit me with a walking boot and then it was time. My hands were shaking. I had to take several deep breaths before I actually did it. And that first step…wow. My leg felt so weak. Not just my foot, or my calf which had withered away, but from toenail to hip, my muscles were jelly. I was determined not to cry in front of the doctor and Kendell, and I didn’t. (Must maintain badass status.) But there were tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.

How strange to be terrified of walking, that most human motion.

First walk after surgery 4x6
(my first post-surgery walk in shoes)

Three weeks later, I have now been spending some time walking in actual shoes. I still sometimes wear my boot, if I know I will be on my feet for a long time. I actually have to practice walking, because my gait is totally off and I am easing in that tendon, not wanting to stress it out at all, afraid of any little twinge or pull.

(I need to start physical therapy but it feels overwhelming.)

And I have been thinking about walking.

In boots on the top of a mountain, when I’ve made it to my destination and can just stroll around, seeing what I can see there.

Along a sandy beach, carrying my sandals.

Carefully, barefoot, along the stony, burbling path of a creek.

Around a city like a flaneuse.

Places I have walked in my life: across the sandstone and the sand at Lake Powell. The Green Sands beach on the Big Island. The soft green grass of the yard of my childhood home. On tiptoe atop a balance beam, in ballet shoes across a stage. Down streets in Amsterdam, London, Paris, Brussels, Rome. Into and out of hospitals and in paces across waiting rooms, anxious for yet another of Kendell’s surgeries to be successful. In front of the white board in my classroom. For a final time, out of the home I grew up in. Into a restaurant to meet a friend. Down the hall into the baby’s room, just to watch him sleep.

I have annoyed my teenagers by walking too fast through the mall and been annoyed by slow walkers in the exit line at Costco.

And I have thought about how, for those 47-something years of walking, I took it for granted. It’s what we do, as humans, the way we move within our world, the way we experience and process and get places. I never really pondered a life without walking, until now, when my two-thirds-of-a-mile loop walk takes me 20 minutes to finish and my foot is pounding when I’m done. So slow. So awkward. And knowing that even that, the slowness, the awkward pace—even that is a blessing. A privilege.

So as I continue on, improving my walking ability (I sometimes feel like a very old, slightly wrinkled, surprisingly grey-haired giant toddler these days), I will keep this knowledge. Walking, which seems so quotidian, is magic. I won’t ever take it for granted again.  

Why I Wear a Mask

As the pandemic continues, I have been thinking about fear.

To be fair, I have thought about fear quite often over the past 15 years or so. I think about it when someone tells me I’m brave to go running on my own. I think about it when someone says I’m foolish to go running on my own, too. I’m not fearless about running by myself. I always tell someone where I’m going and how long I’ll be. I take my cell phone with me and make sure it is charged. I watch for people who give strange vibes and I cross roads with the utmost caution. Every time I leave to go running, in fact, I have the thought that this one might be the run when something bad happens: when I get hit by a car, when someone pulls me into the weeds and rapes me, when I fall and get an injury I can’t walk home with…

If you let it, the fear can control your imagination. So I choose, every time I go for a run, to go anyway, despite my fears. Because the truth is, I don’t have someone to run with consistently. If I decided to not run because of my fears, then I would never run, and not running is not an option. So I take precautions and I try to make my choices based on reality rather than on the fearful scenarios my brain can devise.

There is an idea in American society right now that people are wearing masks out of fear. I’ve seen it expressed on social media, of course, but also I’ve seen it in person. The man in the post office in April, who shouted at me because I was wearing a mask while I waited in line to mail a package to Nathan, that I was an idiot for believing in the government’s scare tactics. (And the flu kills more people than this stupid imaginary virus.) “You’re just wearing that mask because you’re a coward,” he said. Luckily librarian eyebrow is REALLY noticeable when you’re wearing a mask. I didn’t even respond with words, just glared at him until he shut up.

Here’s the thing: I’m not wearing a mask because I am afraid. I am wearing a mask because it might help turn the tide, flatten the curve, calm the wave. I’m wearing one because it could help keep someone else from getting sick. I’m wearing one because that’s what scientists are recommending.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not afraid. I am afraid. I don’t want to bring the virus into my family. I have gone through enough medical conditions with my family to fill an entire lifetime. It is enough. I don’t want my husband, whose heart has undergone FOUR damaging processes, to catch a virus that can cause heart damage. I don’t want my teenage son, who has an aortic bulge, to catch a virus that can cause aortic bulges. I don’t want my adult son, who is grappling with mental health issues, to add illness to his list of struggles. I, in my own body, do not want to catch it. My breathing has already been irrevocably altered by pertussis. I don’t need another thing.

I also don’t want any of my adult kids who are out in the world, away from my house, to catch it. I hope many, many complete strangers I will never meet will be wearing masks so that my kids can be healthy and safe, so they can push forward with their amazing and brave pursuits.

All of my friends and family members: I don’t want any of them to get sick, either.

I also reject the idea that I’m wearing a mask because I don’t have enough faith. “I know where I am going when I die,” I have heard more than once, “so I’m not afraid. If it’s my time, it’s my time, and I will be happy in heaven.” My faith has changed so much in the past five years that I can no longer grasp this concept, but even when I did think I knew where I was going, I didn’t want to die. I want to live a long life. I want to see my kids fulfill their ambitions. I hope I get to be a grandma one day. I want to travel. I want to sit in restaurants with friends and laugh and talk together. I still have books to write, races to run, mountains to climb. I want to be here, in this place, living with the people I love. Death is inevitable, but I don’t want to invite it in any sooner than necessary, not because of fear of the afterlife but because I am here, right now, and it is what I know.

When I run by myself, I only use one headphone and I keep my music low so I can hear my surroundings. I check over my shoulder and I look around for weirdos. I also watch the path; what divots or stones do I need to avoid so I don’t twist an ankle? I put on sunscreen so I don’t get sunburned, and make sure I have access to water on longer runs. I don’t run naked but in fact spend no small amount of money on running clothes that keep my boobs from bouncing and compress my hamstrings in a supportive way. I wear socks so I don’t get blisters and shoes so I don’t cut my feet open.

These are the precautions I take to keep myself safe in order to do something that I love. Do they absolutely guarantee that I won’t get hurt, raped, hit by a car, or otherwise injured? No (although I do ensure that there is ZERO boob bouncing). But they up the odds of my safety.

It’s the same with mask-wearing during a global pandemic (although it’s starting to feel like an American epidemic, isn’t it?) I don’t wear a mask because I’m a coward (or because I’m manipulated by the media, influenced by propaganda, virtue signaling to others, or any of the other dumb things people have said or insinuated). I wear one because I understand the risks and want to do what I can to make them smaller, for myself and for others.

This past weekend, my niece who lives in Texas was visiting Utah. I haven’t seen her entire family for years—long enough that none of her kids really even know who I am, but I was excited to see them all anyway. We haven’t had any family interaction since December, so when my sister planned a family party, I was so looking forward to it. But then Texas exploded with cases, and Utah’s cases continued to go up, and I got nervous. None of my concerns about hearts and lungs and mental health have changed. I wanted to go to see my family, but I also wanted to stay safe. So, I very carefully asked. I know this is a hot-button issue and people have strong opinions on both sides. I didn’t want to seem like I was taking all my toys and going home, but I also needed to lower the risk. I asked if people would wear masks to the party. And I know: many of them didn’t want to. Many of them disagree with my opinion.

But, you know? I went to the party and they all wore masks. No one made me feel bad, no one told me I was a coward. Maybe after I left they all took their masks off and had a mask-and-Amy-free party without me, and that is fine.

But they respected my issues because (I think) they love me and wanted to see me. I mean…it might’ve just been for my cake, but I think it was for me.

I can’t help but contrast that with another large activity Kendell and I went to a few weeks ago. We went full of hesitation but wanting to be supportive. We both wore our masks. And we were literally the. only. people. wearing masks. One other person put on his mask in solidarity, but everyone else went about their partying way, maskless. I caught the eye of several people, friends and family both, and the looks on their faces: pity, ridicule, and many efforts not to laugh. It was almost like being back in high school, when the queen bee deigned to notice you and then spotted your flaw and her eyes widened in delight at this thing she could mock you for. Like that, except far more disappointing than painful because now we are grown ups and should know better.

It is a form of privilege, honestly. To stand in the midst of so many people getting sick and so many who are dying and to defy the precautions. It might seem brave to you, you might think I am living in fear, but honestly, to me you are being stupid. It shows that you have yet to learn one of life’s cruelest truths. Illness comes to everyone, eventually, and while you might be healed you are never the same. You will always be fixed, there will always be a scar.

So I will wear my mask. In hopes that it protects my family. In hopes that it protects others. In hopes that it will create good karma that protects my out-of-state loved ones. In hopes that I will not be the vector that causes life to teach you that truth.

Not in fear, but in hope.

Every Day is a Gift

Timehop and Facebook keep reminding me of something: three years ago was the week that Kendell had his cardiac arrest. I usually like looking back on memories, but this one…this one I don’t want to remember. Kendell has processed enough (or he just never remembered) that he can joke about it. But I can’t. That was a terrifying, difficult experience, and whenever I remember that early morning—waking to that sound he was making, the way he looked at me and then, even though his eyes were open, he wasn’t looking anymore. My hysterical laughter when the EMTs dashed out the front door carrying him on a stretcher. The days of not knowing. Even when it seemed like he would be OK, it was still terrifying and difficult.

Whenever I do have to tell the story, I acknowledge in my head all of the times any medical person who’s heard the story looks at me astounded. I’ve even had doctors and nurses assume I was exaggerating, because most people really don’t survive an episode of v-fib. And if they do, they usually have some sort of hypoxic brain injury.

But Kendell is OK.

So whenever I tell the story, or when something reminds me of that experience, I wonder: why is he still here?

“He must have something amazing he still needs to do,” people have told me many times.

But today I was reminded that maybe not. Or maybe just reminded of what “something amazing” really means.

We went hiking together this afternoon, after he had an yearly check-up with his heart surgeon. Desolation trail overlook hiking boots
Everything seems fine, so we celebrated with a lovely five miles in Mill Creek canyon. Spring hiking is still snowy hiking, but old, melting snow is an entirely different experience. It’s soft and slushy, a little bit like hiking through a Slurpee. (But, of course, without the cherry flavoring.) Sometimes the snow on the trail was like a shark fin, sometimes it was like walking along a balance beam made out of snow-cement.

It was OK hiking up, but when we were hiking down, I was a little bit nervous. I’m still ginger going downhill anyway (I think I probably always will be, now), but the spots of the trail that were slick ice were a little bit scary.

Kendell hiked in front of me on the way down, and whenever he got to a slippery spot, he’d wait for me, and then offer me a hand down.

I didn’t ask him for help. He just knew I’d be a little bit anxious about slipping, so he made sure to help me.

I thought about his heart surgeon, just an hour earlier telling us that he is doing OK. And those memories popping up in Facebook. And the way, if I am honest, I still am terrified. I sometimes wake up at night, still, and just make sure he is breathing.

And I don’t think there is anything more amazing or extraordinary than today. A random Monday at the end of winter. A beautiful spring afternoon, 70 degrees with a blue sky and a light wind. Sitting on a cliff eating cashews together. His hand and his strength helping me to be safe.

Heroic deeds or extraordinary success: those might seem the reasons he’s still alive. He might still have that kind of work to do, I don’t know.

I don’t actually really even care. What I care about is that he’s here, that we have more days together, for however long. No one’s days are guaranteed anyway. We can only savor. We can only love each other in the best ways we know how.

My Hope for 2018

We are not big on New Year’s Eve in my family. Many years I’ve been the only one awake; some years, as my kids got older, I was awake waiting for them to get home from their festivities. This year, Nathan was at a party with his girlfriend, so it was just Kaleb, me, and Kendell at home (a precursor to this year, I think, as Nathan will be graduating this spring and then moving on to as-yet-to-be-determined adventures). We drank blood-orange bubbly out of my grandma’s purple cups and hugged each other and then Kaleb went back downstairs (as he’s in that grumpy-adolescent phase of life and was annoyed that we didn’t have a party to go to).

In a bit I’m going to make myself a cup of hot chocolate, sit in the front room by the little tree, and read (Future Home of the Living God) while I wait for Nathan to get home.

But I wanted to write down some feelings I’m having right now.

There are many things that surprised me about 2017. I didn’t think I’d actually find myself in Hawaii, snorkeling with bottle-nose dolphins, but I did. I didn’t think I’d find myself in an ugly depression, but I did (and I am climbing out). Last January 1st, I had no idea that in a few months, I would stand in a bookstore reading a part of an essay that I wrote and had published, nor did I know how simultaneously scary and thrilling that experience would be. I didn’t know I would strain both popliteus muscles by running, terrified, across three miles of beach searching for Kaleb (thank God Nathan managed to run faster than me and find him). I didn’t imagine hiking Bryce Canyon in a rainstorm or the trails on Santa Cruz Islands. The possibility of returning to New York City seemed remote at best.

2017 held some really, really great moments. I have learned quite a bit about myself, especially in my role as the mother to emerging adults. I’ve read a lot of books (but not as many as I wanted to read), I’ve made quite a few scrapbook layouts and baby quilts; I ran and hiked (but not as often as I wanted).

And all year, I was holding my breath.

Because so many medical things have happened over the past few years. Scary, life-threatening things. And I have lost my belief that they won’t just keep on happening to my family. So, all year, I have held my breath, I have worried, I have woken in the night beset by fear: what would happen next?

But, aside from that depression, and quite a few dermatology appoints for all three boys (Accutane for Nathan and wart treatments for Jake and Kaleb), and Nathan’s hernia surgery this summer, 2017 was a good year for us. Kendell had no heart emergencies and I didn’t sprain my ankle once, let alone twice like in 2016. No one needed stitches or a cast or even, I don’t think, antibiotics.

I am writing that in a whisper; I want to acknowledge the blessing of it but not draw too much attention to it, either, so as to keep the dangerous eye of the Fates away from us.

I’m certain that 2018 will also bring experiences I cannot, tonight, imagine or predict. I hope there is more running, more hiking, more time spent with my husband and kids. More time spent developing and strengthening relationships with my mom, sisters, and friends. I hope my mental health (and Jake’s) continues to improve. I hope I have a productive year: finish the half-made quilts lying about, tell lots of stories, write (and submit) more. I’m tentatively planning on running a marathon this summer, and hopefully some halves, too. I cannot let another summer go by without hiking Timp, and I’d like to do Lone Peak as well.

But more than anything, what I hope 2018 brings us is simply this: good health. Come what may, vacations and graduations and kids moving back in and kids moving out and celebrations and average, normal days...just health. I have been reminded all over again, these last three weeks when my mom has been in the hospital, how tenuous our lives are. There are so many things that can happen or go wrong; I dare not forget that the cliché is true, if we don’t have our health we have nothing. No more long days spent in hospitals, no more healing from surgery or watching the progress of healing incisions.

I am taking a deep breath and feeling brave by throwing this out to the universe, but there it is: what I really want this year is for everyone to be healthy and safe.

Thoughts on Christmas: How I Did (and Didn't) Fulfill my December Goals

Last winter was one of my life’s hardest seasons. One of my kids was struggling with some big issues, and the fact that he was hurting so much and yet wouldn’t let me help him was the straw that crumpled this camel’s back. There has been a lot of drama and difficulty over the past two years or so, and it finally all caught up with me. I slid right into a fairly deep stretch of depression.

I think of it now as my Narnia Winter: always cold, dark, and colorless winter without Christmas.

I mean, we celebrated Christmas last year. But my heart was not in it. I didn’t light candles and I didn’t listen to a single Christmas song. I just went through the motions and put together a Christmas because I knew how to do it, but the joy was gone. I’m not sure my kids noticed or knew any of this—I actually really hope they didn’t—but for me it was a Christmas without light.

So when December started approaching again (even though I really, really didn’t want it to) I knew I would have to work on my mood so that didn’t happen again. I needed to light candles and listen to Christmas music, to sit in front of the tree and just look at it, to thumb through memories of past Christmases. To seek out the spirit of Christmas.

Two things happened that helped me do this. The first was my epiphany at the mall, which I wrote about yesterday. The second was finding, one day at my mom’s house, the Christmas stocking I used when I was a kid. When Kendell and I got married, his mom gave us his childhood stocking, and I’ve always hung it up somewhere as a decoration. But I thought mine was long gone. So when I found it in my mom’s basement, it felt like a gift from Father Christmas himself. A little piece from my past, a little bit of the child I used to be to tie to the person I am now.

My attempts at fashioning a new kind of Christmas weren’t perfect. But I think it was a good start. Whenever someone asked me what I wanted for Christmas, my response was this: to not have a BUA (big ugly argument) with anyone and for no one to need stitches, catch the stomach flu, or have a fever. I wanted there to be no floods and no incidents of me almost setting my house on fire. I wanted it to snow. And I wanted no one to be in the hospital or recuperating from a major surgery.

I got most of those things. December was BUA free, there were no fevers and none of us threw up once, and while Nathan did sprain his ankle at the beginning of the month, he was off of his crutches before Christmas. We preemptively avoided a kitchen flood by replacing our ailing dishwasher (although: who wants to pay for a new dishwasher in the middle of paying for all the Christmas gifts?) and I might’ve grown just a little bit obsessive about checking that the stove really is turned off.

On Christmas Eve, it snowed. This felt like a Christmas miracle, as it has been so dry here in Utah. I literally laughed out loud when I walked out in the evening and saw it was snowing.

So I almost got everything I wanted for Christmas. Except for that last bit. My mom went in to the hospital on December 9 with pain from diverticulitis, and she is still there. I’m lucky in that she’s at a hospital that is less than a mile from my house, so I’ve been able to spend time with her there. But her illness did make it harder for me to achieve the goals I set for myself that afternoon at the mall (but…only in ways that likely don’t matter much).

But I am also happy that I can say this wasn’t a Narnian Winter. Here is what I did to find the joy and magic this December:

  • Made things. I actually started this project during the week after Thanksgiving, thinking it would only take me a few days to finish. And maybe it would have, but as many of my sewing adventures do, the project spun out of control. More details later, because it deserves its own post. But I will say that my ten days (or so) of working with Christmas fabrics, hearing the thrum of my machine, watching my overly-ambitious imagined projects turn into a reality…it really was a lifesaver. The sewing gave me a sense of peace that I carried with me during the scary days of my mom’s hospitalization.
  • Watched for the good moments. Like the night Nathan got home from work late and he stayed up even later, helping me frost sugar cookies and talking to me. The morning I had a very grown up discussion with Kaleb and he responded better than I could imagine. An afternoon spent wrapping gifts in my bedroom while I watched five episodes of Call the Midwife and Kendell worked on his laptop and we were able to be together in a peaceful space. Even in the hospital: laughing with one of Mom’s surgeons, talking with one of the ER nurses late into the night (one of the nurses who helped when Kendell was also in the ICU), holding my mother’s hand. Actually, the fact that I could help her felt like goodness, even though of course I wish she wasn’t there.
  • Spent time with old friends. In fact, I had a lunch wherein one old friend was reunited with another old friend and it was magical and sweet and full of laughter and does, in fact, also demand its own blog post.
  • Changed some traditions. Specifically: I only bought new Christmas books for myself and Haley, as I’m tired of hoping that a book at Christmas will turn Jake, Nathan, and Kaleb into readers again. Maybe one day my boys will remember that they used to love reading, maybe they won’t, but buying them books they only shake their heads at is pointless. I usually put underwear in the stockings but this year I just never got around to buying any, and, when I realized I hadn’t, I decided that rather than stressing about it I just wouldn’t buy underwear. Lastly, I ended the tradition of Christmas-eve PJs. I know: that’s almost sacrilegious! But no one was very excited about them last year, and sometimes the buying of pajamas has actually sparked a BUA with Kendell (who doesn’t really believe in pajamas). So, instead, I had my friend Chris’s husband, who owns a printing shop, print us some Christmas t-shirts. All six of us! I loved this new take on an old tradition and am already planning how next year’s t-shirt will look. And, I confess: imagining 20 years into the future, when we have two decades’ worth of Christmas t-shirts and I can make a Christmas-t-shirt quilt!
  • Made all the kids and Kendell a new calendar. I did this one year for Kendell, and Haley loved it so much that the next year I made one for her too. Then last year the place where I have them printed made a mistake and printed two extra, so I gave one to Nathan and Jake. And then Kaleb was sad he didn’t get one! So this year, calendars for everyone. I was able to find twelve awesome pics for the kids’ calendars—I just try to have a variety of different family members and have them sort-of relate to each month if they can, my only self-imposed rule being that the pics have to come from the previous year. For Kendell’s calendar, I used photos from the three vacations we took together this year (Hawaii, our little get-away in southern California this summer, and our autumn trip to New York City). The opening of the calendars was my favorite moment on Christmas morning, as everyone looked through the photos and laughed, commented, pointed out something they’d forgotten, or noted how much they’d changed.
  • Pulled off some surprises. The things I was most excited for my family to open: Kendell’s new pillows, Haley’s Dr. Martens, Jake’s beard trimmer thing, Nathan’s jacket (the one from the Gap!), and almost all of Kaleb’s gifts (but specifically, the white Hydroflask water bottle, “just like Aunt Cindy’s,” which he’s been wanting since the fall, and the spike ball set, and his own grown-up knife…he might not believe in Santa anymore, but he still is easy to surprise). After we’d opened all of the gifts on Christmas morning, Jake said “Mom, now that everyone knows about Santa, you probably feel happier on Christmas because you get the credit for getting the awesome gifts, instead of Santa Claus” and while I’m really not in it for the credit, there really is something so good about seeing them be surprised.

What I didn’t manage this year: an outdoor adventure (I want to steal one of my running friends’ idea and go running in the dark next December, along a route that has a lot of houses with lights) and an experience just for me (but the Nutcracker will be there next year). And, you know. My mom’s illness might’ve made these things harder to accomplish. But I had a moment with her, a few days after Christmas, that was so powerfully spiritual and such a strong reminder to me of Christ’s love that I don’t even care. I will have plenty more Christmases to get all of the details right, and I found that with purpose and a plan, I could avoid Jadis the White Witch altogether.

Squaw Peak Hike, or: Recuperating from Injuries of both the Body and the Spirit

Sometimes it seems like I’ve been recuperating from an injury constantly. Since I sprained my ankle (and likely tore a bunch of ligaments…wish I would’ve gotten an MRI and a proper diagnosis then) at Ragnar in 2013, my running hasn’t been the same. It’s hard for me to trust my ankle to and to feel that I won’t fall again (especially since I have!); my back was painful for a long, long time and sometimes the pain flares up again, and now my knees are bothering me. I spend so much time thinking about getting my bones, joints, and tendons back in good working order that I forget I’m not the only one who is recuperating from something.


Maybe because his injuries are mostly internal (except for that thrice-cut scar on his chest), but I forget that Kendell is also coming back from injury. Severe injury, not just a dumb sprained ankle and swollen knee pits. In the space of a year, he had his chest cracked twice and part of his heart replaced with something foreign. Between those bookend surgeries, he had a v-fib episode that should have killed him and was in a medically-induced coma along with undergoing having his body temperature drastically lowered. He had to have a pacemaker/defibrillator installed. In the months leading up to the surgery where his bovine valve, slowly choking with scar tissue, was replaced with a porcine valve, his heart was having to work harder than normal. Then, after his surgeon installed the porcine valve, he never felt entirely better. Still had low energy, and the exact thing I was worried would happen was happening: more scar tissue was growing.

All of which means that for almost two solid years, his heart wasn’t working correctly.

_MG_7318 edit 4x6

The external evidence of so much trauma has healed. His sternum doesn’t pop and crack anymore. His scar is his scar, healed as well as it ever will. But he is still recuperating. Still trying to come back from an injury. And sometimes I forget that.

Our weekend hike reminded me that he’s still in the healing process.

Squawk peak trail no3

We decided to do a test run of a trail near us, Squaw Peak. We’ve hiked this trail five times together. It starts out with a fairly gentle incline; almost two miles up Rock Canyon. Then there’s a split in the trail; you turn left to hike all along the east (back) side of the peak, come around to a saddle on the west side, and then up again until you reach the summit. It’s one of my favorite hikes, partly because of the way it opens up when you reach the saddle; until then, you’re mostly hiking through trees, but you turn a curve and everything opens and you can see the other mountains, the lake, and the sky again.

But it is a steep hike. Nearly 3000 feet in four miles, but most of that is the last 2.5 miles after you leave the Rock Canyon trail. Kendell wasn’t sure how it would go. His heart and breathing have been fine, but his energy and stamina are still low. So we hiked the trail this time just to see how far he could get, not with the goal of getting to the summit, but with the goal of seeing how his body is doing.

Squawk peak trail no2

He made it all the way to one of my favorite parts of the trail. This is a meadow you cross while you’re still on the east side of the mountain. After 45 minutes of steep uphill hiking through trees, all of a sudden the trees and the uphill end. It’s a dramatic transition and also fantastic to move through a flat space. You can see the ridge of what I think is Provo Peak from the meadow if you look behind you, and a bit of Cascade Mountain in front. I imagine that sometime in the summer, the meadow is full of wildflowers, but I’ve never timed it right to see that.

Squawk peak trail my favorite meadow

We took a breather sitting on a tree stump, and talked a little bit about how Kendell felt. I know it’s discouraging to him, especially since we were on a trail we’ve hiked before. I’ve experienced this same thing—it’s disheartening when your mind knows how to deal with a certain distance, but your body can’t. And even though logically you know that if you keep being patient and keep working you’ll eventually be able to again do what you used to do, it is so easy to feel overwhelmed.

In some ways, I think that coming back from an injury is harder than just starting out with exercising. When you’re just starting, you don’t know what you can do yet. It’s exciting and new to push yourself another half mile of running, another twenty minutes up a steep trail. But when you are coming back, it’s the very fact that you know what your body has been capable of, but isn’t right now, that is maddening. It makes your spirit feel restless and unsatisfied; it tugs and prickles at that part of you we think of as the “heart,” but that isn’t the muscle that moves our blood around. It’s the part of the psyche that moves the spirit, that gathers and disperses energy, that is troubled and uneasy.

It requires so much patience.

Squawk peak trail no1

As we were hiking back down, I was out in front of Kendell for a while, and just as I reached the end of a particularly steep and rocky part of the trail a deer suddenly crossed right in front of me. Maybe twenty feet away from me. So close. A beautiful tawny doe.

I froze and watched where she went. She picked her way about 15 yards away from the trail, and then started walking downhill. So I kept walking. Kendell had caught up with me by then, so we hiked together, quietly as we could, and the doe kept our pace. For about six or seven minutes, she walked downhill, parallel to the trail, close enough for us to see her through the trees.

Squaw peak doe

Eventually she paused and looked right at us. We took a few pictures (so wish I had taken my Canon, as I felt like I should, instead of only my cell phone)and then she slowly turned around and headed back uphill.

Squaw peak trail selfie with doe

Kendell and I have hiked quite a few miles together over the past decade since he had his hips fixed. We once came upon the entire herd (or what seemed like) of mountain goats that live on Timpanogos. We’ve seen moose, elk, wild turkeys, racoons, skunks, and more than a few snakes. Once an infant bighorn sheep was drinking by a stream next to a trail. Once we caught just the very tail end (literally) of a cougar crossing the trail. And yes: more than one deer.

But that encounter with that doe was magical. To have her walk next to us for so long, her body moving peacefully through the trees and grass, the delicate way she placed her hooves. The calmness she carried.

I always feel, when I see a deer in the wild, that it is my dad saying hello from the other side. But this time felt like something larger. Yes, a hello from my dad. But also the universe telling us: be calm. Keep moving. Be patient. It will all be OK.

I don’t know what that OK will look like. I don’t know if my husband will ever have the energy he used to have. But we will keep heading out into the wilderness together (and by “together” I mean: me in front when we’re going uphill, him in front on the downhill), keep moving, keep being here in the world.

Keep healing and rebuilding our hearts.

Book Review: Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier

A few weeks before his surgery, Kendell asked me if I’d picked out my hospital book yet. This question made me pretty happy, as he’s A—not a reader and B—traditionally adverse to buying books. But we’ve done this hospital-stay thing so many times, he knows it is important to me and helps me during the surgery (which is a long time waiting in uncomfortable chairs) and his days in the hospital (which are full of naps for him and me either watching him sleep or reading in other, yet still-uncomfortable, chairs).

You can’t take just any book to the hospital. You have to choose carefully. First off, it can’t have anything too traumatic, as your real-life trauma is enough to be getting on with. It needs to have a story that’s got some familiar tropes, something that’s gripping but not too intense, intelligent but not too complicated, because you want to be able to both be caught up in the narrative but also able to put it down at a moment’s notice. The setting is important—you really want to forget you’re sitting in a hospital room with someone you love who’s gone through something terrifying. Finally, you need characters you can love because there is something that happens when you love fictional characters: somehow, your affection (and patience! very important, patience!) for the real people in your life increases.

I always turn to fantasy for hospital reading, as it fills all of the necessities.

Dreamers poolFor the surgery Kendell had in November, I picked Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier, and it was just about right. Her book Daughter of the Forest is one of my favorite fairy tale retellings, so I already trusted her, and this new series (called Blackthorn & Grim) seemed intriguing: a wise woman who is imprisoned receives a boon from a fey on the day of her execution. She can decide to let the execution take place, or she can make a promise to the fey that she will not seek revenge against the man who put her in prison and she must help anyone who asks her to.

She chooses the latter. Without ever telling us her real name, she chooses another one, Blackthorn, and then, along with a man named Grim who was in prison with her, sets off across Ireland to the little settlement the fey told her to seek out. She lives in a small cottage on the edge of a forest near a pool that is rumored to be enchanted; she begins helping the villagers and even strikes up an agreement of sorts with Oran, the prince of the area. When she saves his bride, Flidais, from drowning in the Dreamer’s Pool, he seeks out her help, as the woman he wooed through letters is not the same woman who has arrived at his castle.

I liked many things about this novel. Blackthorn was a character I could connect with, as she is troubled by her past and it is easy for her to slip into darkness, and plus, I almost always like books with wise women (that goes all the way back to reading the Clan of the Cave Bear series when I was a teenager). I liked Prince Oran, too, who reminded me a little bit of Faramir from Lord of the Rings. I always love books set in Ireland, and the subtle magic of the fantasy was perfect.

And really, it was almost the perfect hospital book.

Except, the main conflict started to annoy me. Oran is trying to figure out why the Flidais he is meeting in person is so different from the one he met through the letters they wrote to each other. Was it just that she misrepresented herself to win the engagement? Or is it something more sinister? Mostly I found this extremely frustrating. It made me think of Shannon Hale’s Goose Girl, which has something similar, but in that case you’re experiencing the conflict through the characters that also experience it. In Dreamer’s Pool, you experience it partly second-hand, as some of the story comes from Oran but much of it through Blackthorn. I kept flipping to the back of the book to gather a few clues as to when they would finally figure out what was going on.

But that could’ve been forgivable, if Marillier hadn’t done something I can’t abide: putting modern sensibility inside the heads of historical characters. The setting of this novel is Ireland in medieval times—a time period not known for its liberal thinking. Characters overlooking homosexuality with a shrug and the idea of letting people love who they love—I don’t have a problem with that idea, but it is not how people thought during that time period. And while Oran’s proto-feminist perspective is refreshing, it also felt inauthentic to the setting.

I probably won’t pick up the rest of the books in the series, but I didn’t hate this book. I just didn’t love it as much as I wanted to—but in the end, it was a good choice for a hospital read.

I Guess I Will Have to Forgive Him Or, the Continuing Trials of A Recuperating Husband

("In Which I Reveal Several Despicable Things About Myself" might also be a good title. Don't say I didn't warn you.)

I saw an old family friend at the library today, and we started talking about our families and how they’ve been since we last talked. When I told her about Kendell’s heart surgeries, she said “I bet you are taking great care of him.” She’s known me since I was three years old so perhaps she has some memory of me as a kind, nurturing, nurse-esque person.

I did not guffaw. At least out loud.

But I do have to tell you: this taking care of a post-surgical husband is hard work.

Don’t get me wrong. I love him, and I want to take care of him. But I am not, deep down in my nature, a natural caregiver. (There are many reasons I am not a nurse; poop is a pretty big one, but that lack I feel inside myself to want to rush to take care of someone’s physical needs is another.) I can fetch water and rub sore muscles and make sure the germy surfaces are de-germed, but I don’t intuitively know what to do. And during recuperation times, when I am needed much more than normal, I start to get a little bit resentful. Old arguments resurface, old frustrations reemerge.

Plus my natural need for solitude is interrupted.

(If you are still reading this after I’ve revealed my selfish coldness to you…thanks!)

Helping a spouse recuperate is not easy.

But do you know when it is especially hard? In December. (I know this for sure now, as we’ve done it for two Decembers in a row.) Because there’s so much other stuff that needs to get done. You know, like…buying gifts. Or at least a gift for my husband. My husband who wants to go everywhere that I go because he’s bored sitting at home. (Can you see me now? Purposefully not writing about how readers never get bored? Do I sound too proud of my ability to entertain myself? I’ll stop now.)

It’s hard to surprise a person who is always with you.



Goofy couple selfie
(In case you were wondering: this is what it looks like when I try to take a cute couple selfie just to celebrate the fact that we accomplished some Christmas shopping.)

And this year I didn’t want to get just any gift. I wanted to get him something awesome because holy *&*$#(@, this has been a rough year for him. A rough fifteen months. I wanted to find something that would be memorable and let him know he is loved and help him to feel that despite all the sucky medical experiences he’s had to go through, life is pretty awesome because look at that gift!

But not only have I been unable to go shopping without him…it hardly matters because I have had zero brilliant ideas as to what to give him. I mean, really. What kind of gift would make a person’s relationship with a rough stretch of life feel better? Is there any such gift?

Maybe I’m putting too much pressure on myself.

At any rate, I thought today would be my day to at least try to find something. I thought I had a window of Kendell-less shopping. We had a party today for work, which meant I went in at a different time than I usually do. And I might have just let him think that I was going back to work in the two hours after the party. And instead I would go shopping.

It would be the perfect time to find him a gift.

So I grabbed my opportunity.

And I totally failed. I didn’t find a damn thing to give him and I had no inspiration. But that’s not the worst part. Or maybe these are equally bad, but when I had about 45 minutes left before I needed to be back at work, I got a text.

From Kendell.

Asking me where I was.

Because he’d decided to come and visit me at the library. And the rest of the librarians who I work with were like, “ummm, we don’t know where Amy is, she’s not supposed to be here until 4:30” and yeah: totally busted.

And oh my gosh. I was so mad at him.

Which was probably more anger at the entire situation, at the fact that he’s had to do surgery recuperation for two Decembers in a row, and at myself for not being able to cope with a constant companion, and for my failure to find him the perfect gift.

But I was pretty pissed off.

And then I started feeling bad (but still angry and flustered), because I did just lie to my husband (even if it was for a good reason) and I really do want to find something that will remind him that life is fantastic. Or at least not entirely horrible.

So I started messaging him. I told him I was sorry for being tricky and that I hadn’t found him a gift, even though I really wanted to find something great.

And he texted me back and said “I have a new defibrillator and a new heart valve and a bitchin’ wife. What more could I want?”

So I guess I’ll have to forgive him.