Saturday, August 19, 2006


Sometimes when you’ve been dizzy for a week and when you get so dizzy you think you might pass out and when you mention it to a wise friend who had a similar experience and discovered when she went to the hospital that she needed potassium STAT, well, sometimes you end up in the E.R. at midnight.

If you can help it, avoid this.

I miss the days of nurses in starched white uniforms with hats balanced on their heads. I only just barely remember it from my childhood, but there’s something about the current nurse style of smocks with puppy dogs on them and big white athletic shoes that always makes me think perhaps they should be grooming dogs instead of taking my blood pressure. I don’t trust their authority or their expertise. It’s judgmental of me. I’ve taught many fine nursing students who no doubt have a variety of scrubs covered in woodland creatures and cartoon characters, and I’d trust them to take care of me. But still, there was something comforting about those days when people dressed in the uniform of their profession. The reason UPS men look kind of hot now is because uniform wearing is really down to them and the “crew” at McDonald’s.

Also, on the list of things you shouldn’t have to see in a hospital ER: a doctor who appears to be a 12 year old paper boy and who wears, as God as my witness, a shark tooth surrounded by shell beads on a leather cord. I seriously felt as if I’d fallen out of the Midwestern ER waiting room full of Hoosiers with reflux and tattoos and into an examining room in the O.C. If this hospital wasn’t situated at one of the furthest points inland you can be from either coast, I would assume he was going to go surfing as soon as his shift ended.

I’m not ready to be a woman who talks about how young the doctors and cops look. I don’t want to have a prejudice against youth. And yet. And yet. I want a doctor, male or female, with understated jewelry and no beach ware.

Things you should know about your ER visit:
1) Do not tell the doctor what you think your problem might be. Doctors do not like this. Doctors will order the test you think you need but will tell you they are certain you don’t need it and when the results come back negative, they gloat. In this respect, I think doctors also long for a simpler time before their patients had access to WebMD.

2) When the technician comes in to administer an EKG and he is reading the manual, it won’t be done right. He will be pleasant (and mildly cute, so you won’t mind exposing your chest to him so much), but eventually, a woman in a puppy dog smock is going to come in with the same piece of equipment and do the whole thing over again, only more quickly and with more authority. In all likelihood, your results will be normal.

3) Do not assume that you will leave with any sort of sense of what is wrong with you. If you are not having a heart attack or stroke, you will not be admitted. If you are not a baby with pink eye, you will not be given drugs.

4) Do be prepared for looks from the doctor and nurses that indicate you DO NOT BELONG in the ER and that you are WASTING THEIR TIME.

I have sense seen my “regular hours” doctor and he doesn’t know what’s wrong with me either. He said he “prefers to think it’s an inner ear thing” and that my body is overreacting to the dizziness. He has a look in his eye that indicates he thinks, perhaps, I am having an anxiety attack. Any maybe I am. Because, honestly, I’m pretty anxious about becoming 40 in five months and having health care professionals treat me as if I am an over-reacting, hypochondriac middle-aged woman. It’s a downward slide from here.

Youth is wasted on the young. Middle-aged people are wise enough to know that shark teeth make for bad jewelry.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Lost and Found

Okay. Okay. Summer is over. I'm back to work.

In the remaining fifteen minutes before classes start for Fall, I've been trying to clean up my "home office" (a Tom Seely Shaker farm table covered in paper, Post-Its, and small plastic gods, goddesses, and a Zimbabwean bottle cap basket), and in so doing, I have re-discovered some salvage from my library days.

For three depressing years after college when I was pretty sure my life was over, I worked in a public library. It wasn't a bad job in that it was clean and there was electricity and there was very little chance I'd be trapped in a cave-in or develop Black Lung from my work there, but it was soul deadening in a way most book lovers can't imagine. Anyone who reads always says, "Oh, you worked in a library! How wonderful." If by wonderful they meant how wonderful for a sugar addict to work in a candy factory where she is not allowed to sample the wares, then yes, I guess it was wonderful. Mostly, my time was spent trying to soothe patrons who were sure they had been overcharged fifteen cents on their fines, keep the odd pervert from masturbating in the 600s, and trying to fly beneath the radar of a mentally ill boss.

One of my few joys, aside from ordering fiction and quittin' time on Friday, was cleaning out the lost and found. Frequently, there were items in there I wouldn't have touched if I'd had on a haz-mat suit, but other times, there would be Aignier change purses (now used for toll money) or interesting bookmarks or photos of strangers. Twice, there were Cross pens, one pink one with PJB etched on the barrell and another, more distinguished navy blue one with "Jeff Aluotto" engraved on it.

When I worked at the library, Al Gore hadn't yet invented the internet, and there was no "Aluotto" listed in our databases nor in the phone book. PJB was similarlily elusive, so I became the proud owner of two slightly used Cross pens.

Fast forward 16 years. I still have both pens, though I rarely use either. I am a pen whore, and there are too many pens in my possession for any of them to get used more than a few times a year. So in my cleaning frenzy and my desire to "simplify" as the magazines all tell me I must do if I wish to find inner peace, I re-discovered Jeff Aluotto's pen and decided to see if I could find him. After 20 seconds of googling, I located a likely candidate, living about an hour and a half from my own fair city. He seems to be doing well for himself and in all likelihood, he has many other Cross pens in his possession, but I've been enjoying the idea of reuniting him with this pen. He appears to be roughly my age, and I'm speculating that his pen was a graduation present. Possibly from an auntie of whom he was fond.

So I decided to send it to him semi-anonymously. I shoved it into a padded envelope with a note wrapped around the barrell that said, "Did you lose this sixteen years ago?" And then, because my professional interest in "story" got the best of me, I signed the note with my email address, hoping that he would write me back to say either, "Thank you so much. My auntie died shortly after she gave me this pen" or, possibly, "Who the hell are you and why did you send me a pen with my name on it? Are you trying to sell me something?"

I had a brief fantasy in which he writes me back and we strike up a conversation and discover we both had a great love of Ireland and jig punk and the novels of Thomas Hardy and Nick Hornby and Italian food and voila, we decide to meet and fall in love and Plan B pays big bucks to make the movie of our romance since the James Frey thing isn't working out so well for poor Jen's production company.

But then I did an additional search and discovered a woman, roughly my age, living in the same house with my fantasy man, so now I've begun worrying that perhaps the arrival of this pen will break up his happy marriage. For instance, I suspect perhaps they were high school sweethearts and she gave him the pen and is now going to ask him uncomfortable questions about who I am and why he was with me sixteen years ago. And the fighting will escalate and then they will divorce and their three beautiful children (who may or may not exist) will be statistically damanged by being raised in a broken home. And it will be all my fault for reuninting a man with his pen.

The most likely scenario, I realize, is that the man I selected as the most likely candidate isn't the original owner of the pen. But it really is the least fun of the possibilities.