Sunday, November 22, 2009


The day before my surgery last week I shared my unfounded and irrational panic with all of you. Of course it was very real to me at that time. Because that’s what I do. I take true reality, put it away, faaar, faaar away, and roll out unwarranted and ridiculous fears. Let’s face it, it is much more entertaining to revel in dread then to be reasonable and mature. Maturity is highly overrated.

However, something amazing happened. I, a poster child for bad attitude and neurotic overreaction, was presented with miracle after miracle, just gift after gift, over and over again.

All my kids called me in the days before, telling me they loved me and then simply making me laugh with funny stories. They are so great, so much fun.

My daughter Mary Kate brought me to the surgicenter the morning of the surgery. I was a bundle of fear and anger and self pity. Fear over this irrevocable step of having my bone replaced. Anger and self pity that I was facing yet another really challenging and painful situation. Enough already!, I was thinking. And the loss of control had me completely freaked out. I just felt as though I could not take one more indignity, exposure, embarrassment.

But the amazing thing that happened Monday morning was that one by one each professional I met calmed me incrementally with kindness, respect and implications of complete autonomy.

I was given option after reasonable option. If I half jokingly had suggested that I perform the surgery myself, they probably would have at least paused and pretended to consider it. Oh…um….that’s right, I did suggest it. Completely seriously. And Dr. K., the anesthesiologist, treated my proposal as if it was an everyday request, not the most insane thing he had ever heard.

This was not that awful, phony-fake-niceness that costs nothing and, ultimately, means nothing. This was genuine. This was concern for my comfort. Empathy for my obvious anxiety.

Because I was addled with drugs and insanity, I cannot remember everyone’s name. Suzanne I remember, because she has been my nurse the three times that I’ve been there. Suzanne strikes me as a person who would be blast to have a martini or five with, just a fun, fun person. Angela I’ve had twice. So sweet. I think it was Angela who accidentally told me how much I weighed in a pre-surgery call, but, after two days of weeping and about 100,000 mg. of Xanax, I have forgiven her. Even though I can’t remember everyone’s names, I can see their faces and will always remember how amazing they were.

Considerate, pleasant, warm, funny, every nurse was patiently reassuring in every regard. I was embarrassed that my MS-weak legs could not help transfer my fat self from the gurney to the operating table, but they practically gave me three cheers, continually telling me how great I was doing. Or at least that is how it felt.

For many reasons that I will spare you of right now, I have a particular aversion to my body being exposed to strangers. I hesitantly, in a whisper, brought this up to one of the nurses. She earnestly assured me they took great pride and went to great lengths to maintain a patient’s dignity and privacy. And even though I discover upon waking that my right breast is COVERED with betadine, I’m totally buying it. No exposure there, nope, none at all. I am certain they turned off the lights, closed their eyes and daubed in the dark.

The nurse anesthetist was so, so soothing preparing me to go under. While blasting me with oxygen before putting me out and intubating me she said several times, “Ok, are you ready to go on vacation?” Here would be my only tiny criticism. I WASN’T READY!! Nobody had said anything about a vacation! I wasn’t packed. I hadn’t even picked a destination. Did I want to go to London or Prague? I had been promising to visit my friend Manju in Mumbai. Wait, wait I can’t decide…klunk.

I wake up in PACU, more blessings. Almost no pain. Totally patient focused. Solicitous. Professional. It is discovered my shoulder ice pump been has leaking and I am soaked to the skin with ice water. A coordinated dance organizes to get me, someone with limited balance and mobility to begin with, dried, cleaned and changed as quickly as possible. I am seamlessly transferred to a geri-chair and wheeled to the bathroom. Now, naturally, I have to go. One nurse whips off my knickers with the skill and speed of my high school boyfriend. Stands at the ready outside the door with all my dry things. And within minutes I am dressed, warm, and sipping ginger ale as if nothing in the world had ever happened.

I am definitely groggy and believe I am somewhat hallucinatory, because I think I have heard one of the nurses say “Her priest is here.” But that is not possible. For one thing, there are other several other patients there, so it could be someone else. For another, David is incredibly busy. Since we hired him over five years ago, with the mandate of growing the parish, he has literally not stopped for one minute. To the extent that we get worried about him overdoing it. He is so dedicated and has done such a spectacular job our previously empty pews are now packed. He doesn’t have the time to wander around Monmouth County for little old me when there are far more important things for him to do.

However, I am incorrect. David has indeed come to the surgicenter. I am still in surgery, so he stays in the waiting room and holds me in prayer. They let him know when I am done and that I am well, but he cannot come to the PACU. He is on his way to a meeting in New York, but he leaves a loving message.

So this is another blessing. In addition to all the cards and calls I have received from fellow parishioners over the previous weeks, there are all of you, as well. New friends, old friends, acquaintances, readers of my blog. My aunts, my sister, my beloved therapist, my other physicians. Providing e-mails, phone calls, messages on Facebook, offers of prayers, loving thoughts, reassurances.

If there was a package one could buy that said “Super Deluxe Hopeful, Encouraging and Positive Surgery Survival Kit”, these, all of the above, are all the things that would be in it.

Finally, there has been Dr. Wonderful himself. After the initial nightmarish search for care when I first fell, I am so lucky that he was put in my path. There is no doubt in my mind I have received the best medical care possible from this gifted surgeon. There was never a time that Dr. W. was not respectful, patient and compassionate. He took me seriously and he treated my relentless pain seriously. He was attentive yet genuine, a truly caring person. And his Administrative Assistant is a sincere reflection of his values. Maryanne is pleasant and fun to chat with but utterly professional. All my pre and post-op care was in place without me having to do a thing. Over this past 20 months every phone call was returned promptly, every question answered considerately.

There is no positive side to an injury like the one I sustained. There are no silver linings. That whole ‘if life gives you lemons then make lemonade’? Bullshit. If life gives you lemons then you have too many lemons. I don’t even like lemonade.

It is lovely to have my wonderful friendships validated. To discover there are marvelous people out there in the world. But you can get that without having your arm sliced open multiple times.

In the end, I have no words of wisdom, simply praise and gratitude for all the good that surrounded me and continues to sustain me. I have had this plaque hanging over my bed for years and I do believe it.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

My Broken Shoulder, My Breasts and John Lithgow (There Is a Connection. Really.)

When I tripped over a string of lights on my patio on March 29, 2008, I hit the cement like a meteor striking the earth. In scientific terms that can be an ELE, an extinction level event. And, not to be too dramatic, that is practically is what it was for life as I had known it up to then.

Yeah, not too dramatic. lol

I had never broken a bone before, but knew the instant I hit the ground that something really, really bad had happened to my arm. The sensation was almost electrical, what I would imagine it would feel like to have lightening strike. The pain was unspeakable.

At the Emergency Room, they told me my arm was broken. What they didn’t tell me was the head of my arm bone, essentially the bottom half of my shoulder, had shattered into four pieces. And, truly, my life has not been the same since.

After a fruitless four day search for someone to take care of me, I found Dr. Wonderful. He was so great, in so many ways. I had my first operation since I was a child, actually almost exactly 50 years earlier. I was patched together in an effort to preserve the bone. And it might have worked. Except for Multiple Sclerosis.

The MS, the theory is going, has kept my arm from healing properly. The result has been relentless pain and little use of my arm since the day I fell. A second surgery was done to clean up the scar tissue that had developed, in the hope of calming everything down once and for all.

No such luck.

I am heading into my third shoulder surgery and will have part of the joint replaced. The theory this time is by taking away the source of the pain, my damaged bone, the pain will be relieved.

Instead of getting easier, this surgery stuff is getting harder and I am practically certifiable with anxiety at this point. I have watched the You Tube shoulder replacement film so many times, I could do the surgery myself. I am contemplating asking them to let me stay awake, just to make sure they are all doing everything they should.

I watched one training film for the surgery where the anesthetized female patient was COMPLETELY EXPOSED from the waist up the whole while her surgeon was talking to the camera. Bastard. So now I am obsessing about my 55 year old boobs, which nursed four children for a total of ten years, that they will be flopping over the sides of the operating table and resting on my surgeon’s shoes. For all to see and trip over.

Not fun. Well, not for me at any rate.

The surgery is done with the patient in a sitting up position. Apparently I had a little airway trouble during the last operation (a little airway trouble=I was unable to breathe), so I had to be intubated, a tube was put down my throat to make sure I didn’t suffocate.

More not fun. Although I suppose suffocating isn’t so spiffy either.

Can you tell yet that I don't want to do this?

I am trying to focus on the possibility that following this operation, I could be without pain for the first time in 20 months. Focusing on the fact that I love and trust Dr. Wonderful. Focusing on how truly kind and professional the staff is at the surgery center. Focusing on how it could be worse and there could be no options for me at all, that shoulder replacement is a miracle of modern medicine. Focusing on...

Wait!!!! Who am I kidding?!?! I’m a neurotic Drama Queen with major modesty and control issues. THAT’S ALL I CAN FOCUS ON!!! AAAAGGGHHH!!!

My bare breasts will be drooping from here to Kalamazoo and I won’t be able to do anything about it! I won’t be in charge! I won’t be calling the shots! I won’t even be freaking awake!

I have no tidy way to end this little rant. I am praying not so much that the surgery goes well, although that would be awfully nice. More than anything when I get there tomorrow morning at six a.m., I don’t want to make a complete fool of myself and totally lose it or something. Cause that’s how I’m feeling. You know, sort of like John Lithgow on the plane in The Twilight Zone.

Not to be John Lithgow. That would be my prayer.

For e-mail readers (c’mon, watch it, it’s funny!):


Friday, November 13, 2009

A Quietly Remarkable Man

My beloved grandfather, James Edwin Bennett, was born on this day in 1904 in Port Chester, New York.

His parents were young but his father was already a successful plumbing contractor with a business in Manhattan. Grandpa had a younger sister, Victoria. But his mother died giving birth to his brother Joseph. He was six at the time. Within the next year, Victoria died of diphtheria. My grandfather told me his father never recovered from those losses, although he did marry again and had four more children.

They ended up moving to the townhouse where my great grandfather’s business was based on East 65th Street. They were prosperous and happy.

My grandmother emigrated to the United States from Ireland in 1923 and met my grandfather a few years later (although he always told us, with a wink, that he met her at the boat with her first pair of shoes; she did not find this amusing). She told me she was working as a nanny for a wealthy family in Connecticut. My grandfather was at the estate on a job with his father and he threw a snowball at her. They were married in 1930.

But with the Depression, large building jobs disappeared and, gradually, with them went my great grandfather’s business. My grandfather took the most secure job you could get in those days and became a New York City policeman.

His step-mother passed away after a long illness and he ended up supporting his father, his youngest siblings and his own new family.

He told stories of that time with humor and nostalgia, never complaining, never implying that going from relative wealth to relative impoverishment was a devastating fall. Or that watching his father drink himself to death was a crushing tragedy.

I was the second grandchild, the first girl, indeed the only girl for the next fourteen years, in a family that teemed with boy cousins. And my grandfather frankly adored me in his quiet, understated way. It wasn’t until I was older I realized what a gift that had been. My self-centered little self took it for granted.

I spent much time with my grandparents as a child. My grandfather would take me with him everywhere.

We went to the park almost every day. Granted, it was usually after my grandmother snapped from some chore “Edwin! Take that child to the park!” And he would, cheerfully, holding my hand, pushing me endlessly on the swings.

We lived in northern Manhattan. If he was driving downtown, I would hop up and down in the car. “The boats, Grandpa, the boats!” And, although I know now it had to be out of the way sometimes, he would dutifully take Twelfth Avenue, where in the 1950’s you would see prow after prow of cargo ships and cruise ships. I don’t know why I found it so thrilling, but he always accommodated me.

In those days there were still many cobbled streets in Manhattan. Again, I would hop up and down on the front seat, “Grandpa, could we take the bumpy roads?” And he would wind his way through Manhattan driving on all the cobble streets he knew. As a native New Yorker, and someone who loved the city, he knew where they all were.

I had an accident when I was four and lost my right eye. My aunt has told me that she knew something was terribly wrong when she got home from school and my grandfather was not at work. He worked the 3 to 11 shift his entire career. And he was crying. She said she never saw him cry except for that moment. It breaks my heart that my grandfather wept for me.

We named our second son James for my grandfather. After my husband died, Grandpa never failed to tell me how much he admired me, how strong and brave I was raising four children on my own. I didn’t feel strong and brave, but his words, his love were a gift.

As the years passed, my grandfather aged, but both my grandparents stayed strong and independent until their early 90’s, when they agreed to move in with my aunt. They were frail by that time and my grandfather, tall, handsome, so, so smart, was increasingly struggling with dementia.

Every time I visited him, he acted overjoyed to see me, even when he couldn’t pull up my name anymore. He would shake his head sadly and say “I’ve become terribly stupid.” I would hold his hand and simply say “You are not stupid, you’re just having a bad day.” He would perk up, but he knew the truth.

However, he was clever to the end. In the ER, several days before he died, the doctor was doing a quick mental status assessment. The president at the time was Bill Clinton and the Lewinsky scandal had been in full swing over the previous year. The doctor asked my elegant, die-hard Republican grandfather if he knew who the president was. Grandpa paused and pondered. He finally said slowly, “Well doctor, his name is eluding me at the moment. But I can tell you he is very disreputable fellow.” The doctor was delighted by his response. “There is nothing wrong with you, Mr. Bennett!” he sweetly said.

My grandfather’s fragile, loving, generous heart failed on April 29, 1999, just days after my grandparent’s 69 wedding anniversary.

I know my siblings and my cousins can all tell similar stories of his affection, caring and sense of fun. We were so, so lucky. I still miss him and think of him every day. He provided me with so much love, it sustains me still. Happy birthday, Grandpa. Till we meet again.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Day to Forget

Yikes, did I ever hate yesterday!!! Because it seems everyone in North America hated me.

Innocent little me.

For me, pride ALWAYS goeth before a fall. And do I learn &/or remember this? No, of course not.

I was inordinately proud of my little article on Dr. Kevin’s wonderful web site. So, naturally, every single commenter wiped the floor with me. Told me I should be ashamed of myself. Called me a bureaucrat. And thought worse, I am certain.

My Much Despised Article

Ow. I was just trying to be helpful.

Then, because I am an idiot, I did something else really dumb. I expressed my opinion in a comment on an article in our local paper’s website.

Now you have to know something about the majority of people who leave comments on this site. Rather than use words, I will just give you a visual.

Just add frothing at the mouth and you will have the complete picture.

There could be an article about rescuing a kitten from a tree and they would have horrible, terrifying things to say. So just imagine the reaction when I expressed my objection to capital punishment.

To say there was vitriol does not even begin to cover it. I am certain if they knew where to find me, I would have been subject to execution myself. And my little dog too.

For your reading pleasure, if you are really a glutton for punishment:

Asbury Park Press

I guess I don't have to tell you which one I am.

Only I could enrage both ends of the intelligence spectrum in one day.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Odds and Ends (more odds than ends)

Yes, I have changed my blog design yet again. I really thought the last layout was too busy and I actually…um…hated it. If you liked it, I hope I haven’t insulted you. But I think this is a lot cleaner and easier to read.

Back to the Dating Game

I discovered there was yet another element I never realized I had to specify: NO MARRIED MEN!!!

I had been chatting with a very nice guy. About the sixth message and he says “I want to be honest and tell you I’m married. But it is a sort of sexless marriage.”

Sort of sexless?!?! SORT OF?!?!

So I added an Addendum to my profile:

I never realized I was so picky before, but after about 70 contacts, I realize I have to add a few more specifics:

* No married men
* I do not like NASCAR in any way, shape or form
* No married men
* Please don't smoke
* No married men
* Please be younger than my father
* No married men
* You might have noticed I said I like books. I said I would like YOU to like books. The word 'book' is in my screen name. If you are not a big book person, we will have nothing in common.
* No married men
* I will not ask you for your picture. You can send it if you want, but who you are is more important. I will send mine after a few conversations if I think we are a good fit. If you ask for it before we've exchanged a single word, bub-bye.

After I added this, I received sheepish e-mails from THREE OTHER GUYS that had been corresponding with me admitting they too were married but being on a singles dating site was ok with their wives. However since I expressed that a relationship with a married man was OUT OF THE QUESTION they just wanted to say goodbye.

Gee whiz. That’s all I can say. And it takes a lot to render me speechless.


I have another article coming up in Dr. Kevin Pho’s blog. He calls it a blog, but it is really more like an online magazine. He does a great job presenting information that is timely and thought provoking, from all different perspectives, physicians, nurses, patients and other health care workers. When you have time, check him out,

In addition to editing this terrific site and speaking all over the country about social media as applied to health care, Dr. Pho is a general practitioner in New Hampshire. I asked him last week how he possibly managed it all. He laughed and said he didn’t sleep much. Of course it doesn’t hurt that he is like twelve.

More Writing

In approximately four hours it will be November 1 and I will again be part of NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month (

The idea behind the project is to have a novel written by December 1. A 50,000 word novel. I have no ideas, characters, or plot. Last year I signed up and did not write a single word.

This ought to be interesting.

Sad and Pathetic

While writing this post, sitting in bed with my laptop, I dozed off. Eight thirty at night, and I can’t keep my eyes open. And while I dozed, I dreamt about…bobby pins. Nothing magical or mystical or interesting. I simply was looking for bobby pins and when I found them started to put my hair up.

I’m surprised I didn’t dream about something really exotic, like mopping the kitchen floor or scrubbing the toilet. Maybe that’s next! Ooooh, I can’t wait to get back to sleep.