Sunday, January 03, 2010

Hi! Remember me?

So I'm back: back in Reno, as of Friday, and -- obviously -- back on the blog. The last four days of the trip were less than ideal, I have to say.

Tuesday at the MLA wound up going late; we finished interviewing in the morning, but another search was starting its interviews as soon as we finished up, so we agreed to meet at 6:00 to make difficult choices. This meant that I couldn't head out to see Gary's folks until much later than I'd hoped, although his mother was working until 9:00 (she's an assistant in a children's room in a library, and loves it), so I wouldn't have seen her until late evening anyway. At least I could store my overnight bag in the interview suite.

With six hours to hang around the hotel, I had lunch with one colleague, went to an excellent paper by another, browsed various gift shops (acquiring small presents for my mother and sister), and perched on assorted uncomfortable pieces of hotel-lobby furniture -- mainly fashionable couches with no backs -- to knit. I was surrounded by anxious job candidates in business attire poring over notes, comparing interview experiences with friends, and generally looking crazed. Having been on the job market myself for three years, I sympathized completely, and was also indescribably grateful to have tenure. Nothing's completely safe in this economy, but having tenure is a lot more comfortable than being on the market.

At one point, a young woman in Interview Attire (immediately recognizable, especially since academics rarely dress up in their workplaces) looked over at my knitting, sighed, and said, "You're an island of calm in a sea of chaos."

Later on, I found myself sitting next to casually dressed Asian tourists, two parents and a little girl about six or seven. She was knitting; her mom was helping her. Mom and daughter wore matching knit scarves the mom had made. The little one was absolutely fascinated by my sock-in-progress, both by the multiple double-pointed needles and by the sock itself. "It looks like a pocket!" she said in delight, and I told her that was exactly right, since a sock is a pocket for a foot.

She was small enough that making each stitch was really hard work for her. I spotted a dropped stitch and used a crochet needle to fix it as much as I could, advising mom to tie it off with a piece of waste yarn. This process thoroughly enchanted the girl, who watched me with eyes so wide you'd have thought I was pulling kittens out of some other dimension.

When I meet a kid like that, I always briefly regret being childless. Then I see some other kid, screaming in glee, zooming around with that terrifying energy possessed only by children, and I remember my intolerance for noise and interruption and sleep deprivation, and I come to my senses. Parenting is the hardest work in the world, and I bow to those with the patience to do it well. I know myself well enough to know that I'm not one of them.

Back upstairs, our meeting dragged on. I finally got out of there at 7:00 and took the subway to 30th Street Station, where I learned that a one-way Amtrak ticket to Newark would cost $45. No, thanks! The round-trip SEPTA/Jersey Transit fare -- which involved taking slow local trains and switching in Trenton, and which would get me into Newark at 9:45 -- was only $31, a relative bargain. I happily bought round-trip tickets.

On the train, I called my hotel. Did they have a shuttle that could pick me up at the train station? No, they didn't, but they'd arrange a car service for me and call me back to confirm it. Sure enough, a few minutes later my cell rang. Most of the car services didn't have any cars available at that time, but a limo company could spare a town car. The fare would be $90 for the ten-mile ride to the hotel.

"Ninety dollars?" I sputtered. "That's unacceptable." Fellow train passengers were glaring at me; I'd become one of those monsters who holds loud personal conversations in public. "If you can't find something more reasonable, I'll have to take a bus."

The hotel called back a few minutes later, informing me brightly that, yes, they'd found another car service! This one would only charge me $65!

For ten miles? Ridiculous. "Let me see if I can arrange a ride," I said. "I'll call you back." Gary's brother is the only person in that household who drives. I hadn't wanted to bother them, but maybe he could pick me up? I called the house and got my grown niece, who gave me her dad's cellphone number. I called him and explained my predicament. He had to pick Gary's mom up at work and then drive his daughter back to her own house, and wouldn't be able to get to Newark until 10:00. Was that all right? I assured him fervently that it was wonderful, and called the hotel back to cancel the car service and to order a room-service chicken salad to be delivered to my room so I'd have something to eat when I got there, since the restaurant kitchen would be closed.

To make an already long story a tiny bit shorter, Kurt was delayed by traffic and didn't arrive until 10:30, which meant that I didn't finish my supper until 11:30 and didn't get to bed until a little after midnight. Under the circumstances, I decided not to set an alarm.

I got up around 9:30, called Gary's mom to say that I'd be there by eleven, and set about trying to figure out the hotel coffee maker, a "pod" model I haven't used much. I was leaning over trying to read the fine-print instructions on the side of the machine when my back spasmed.

It's been a few years since this has happened to me, but I recognized it instantly. It was fairly predictable, given the previous several days' combo of travel, stress, lack of exercise, and non-ergonomic hotel-lobby furniture. It wasn't as bad as other spasms I've had, which have put me in bed for several days on muscle relaxants and massive doses of ibuprofen, but it was bad enough to ensure that I wouldn't be able to see Gary's mom as soon as I'd hoped. I called her to explain, said that I'd try to be there by 1:00, and called the hotel to arrange late checkout. No problem on that one: thank goodness for small favors! In the meantime, a hotel clerk dashed out to a drugstore to get me some ibuprofen.

I don't remember what I was doing when my back spasmed again. This one was much worse, definitely in the bed-plus-ibuprofen-plus-muscle-relaxants category. I called my sister to say that I wouldn't be traveling back to Philly that evening, called the hotel to extend my stay by one night (all the time I could afford, since I had to fly back to Reno on Friday and most of my luggage was still in Philly), called Doris to ask pitifully if maybe she could come to the hotel instead of my coming to the house, and called my doctor to find out if he could call a script for muscle relaxants in to a local pharmacy.

My doctor was out for the day. The nurse would give a note to his partner. In fairly short order, the partner's nurse called back and told me in chilly tones that her doctor had looked at my file, but never prescribed muscle relaxants for back pain. I should take ibuprofen for back pain. "This is a back spasm," I said. "I have ibuprofen for pain. I need a muscle relaxant to ease the spasms. This has happened to me before, and two other doctors have prescribed muscle relaxants."

"Then call them," the nurse snapped, and hung up.

Holy crap! I'm an established patient in this office, and you have my records. You can see what he's prescribed! (And I did call him; it's not my fault I got you instead.) Muscle relaxants are not, as far as I know, drugs of abuse; they are absolutely standard procedure for muscle spasms. But the nurse was treating me exactly the way I've seen -- and heard -- ER staff treat patients they think are drug seekers.

I've always sympathized with those patients. I sympathize even more now. The hotel clerk had asked if I wanted to go to an ER, but I didn't need an ER: I needed a script for muscle relaxants. If I showed up in an ER 3,000 miles from home, I would be dismissed as a drug seeker, and I'd pay dearly for the humiliation.

I was weeping from pain and anger and shame. I'd come here to support my bereaved mother-in-law, and now look at me! I couldn't stand up straight. I could barely walk, could hardly move at all without sending my back into fresh spasms. I hadn't showered; my hair was a fright; I'm pretty sure I smelled funky. Just getting to the door of my room to unlock it for Doris was agonizing.

Thank God for Doris! She brought me ice packs. She'd eaten at home, but went to the hotel restaurant to get lunch for me, bringing it back herself so we wouldn't have to pay the that-will-be-double-for-room-service taxes and fees. And, at home, she had muscle relaxants. Having taken a cab from the house to the hotel, she called another one to take her home so she could get the drugs and bring them to me. I don't usually take other people's drugs, but my doctor's office had left me no choice.

With food and meds in my system, I felt much better. I lay curled in bed; Doris sat and chatted with me. She dismissed the housekeeper who'd come to change the sheets. We both took naps. I bought us both dinner, which Doris again collected from the restaurant, over their strenuous objections. "We can deliver it! We can deliver it!" I'd gotten a free cup of ice water with lunch, but this time, they tried to charge $8 for two bottles of water, no doubt to try to recoup lost room-service charges. Doris declined, and we drank tap water instead.

My sister called to say that she'd pick me up early the next morning, since it certainly didn't sound like I was up to multiple train rides, not to mention the hassle of getting back to the train station for less than the GNP of a developing country. Doris left. I knitted a little and slept a lot; muscle relaxants will do that. Liz was going to call me the next morning when she left home.

My phone rang at 7:45 a.m. It was Liz, psychotically cheerful. "Hi! I'm here! What room are you in?" Bleary-eyed and still in terrible pain, I hobbled to the door to let her in as she scratched at the door to annoy me. It had taken her two hours to drive up from Philly in light snow. But by the time she got me and my luggage into the car, the snow wasn't light any more. Roads were very slick. The radio informed us that several highways were closed because of multiple accidents. Liz stopped at a Starbucks to get both of us breakfast and coffee, and then we set out, passing a pick-up on its side and various cars crunched against dividing walls and any number of emergency vehicles. Liz used her GPS to look for alternate routes when we got snarled in traffic jams.

About an hour later, the snow stopped as suddenly as it had started. The roads suddenly cleared. We made it home in only three hours, much less than we'd expected. I used my mother's chair-elevator to get back up to my room, where I spent most of the day in bed. I called my airline to arrange wheelchair transportation; Liz helped me pack to go home. And, mirabile dictu, my flights the next day went very smoothly. No weather delays, very prompt and attentive and helpful wheelchair attendants, three seats all to myself on the second leg of the trip. Since I could now walk a bit but still couldn't stand up straight, all of that was a real blessing, as was being able to collapse in my own bed.

Yesterday I woke up feeling just better enough to swim, which helped immensely. I swam today, too, after going to church for the first time in forever: everyone seemed delighted to see me, and I got lots of hugs. I'm practicing the fiddle again after days of enforced absence. To my amazement, I don't seem to have lost much ground, and yesterday I finally finished sounding out a tune that had been eluding me. My sister told me today that her husband had said very kind things about my playing, and I appreciated that a lot.

I know I've gone into ridiculous detail on this, but it was all pretty traumatic! Oh, my psychiatrist says that the higher antidepressant dose might be causing my excessive sleeping, so as of January 1, I'm back on the old dose. So far, so good. Tomorrow I see my primary-care doc to follow up on other possibilities about the sleep issue. You can be sure I'll be talking to him about his partner! Knowing that I only have fifteen minutes, though, I'm already getting anxious. I have four things to talk to him about: the partner, a mild rash on my face, the fact that my right thumb's becoming increasingly arthritic from fiddle practice, and the sleep issue. I can't cover all of that in a quarter hour. Help!

I guess I'll just have to schedule multiple appointments with him. Aaaaargh.

Luckily, I see my shrink on Tuesday. She gives me a whole thirty minutes. What luxury!

Postscript: I've now learned that muscle relaxants can indeed be drugs of abuse. That at least explains the reaction I got, although it doesn't help answer the question of what one does for a muscle spasm 3,000 miles from home. I guess I would have gone to an Urgent Care clinic and asked them to give me only enough pills for a few days.

For anyone who's worried about me, the last time I took the muscle relaxant -- or even ibuprofen -- was Friday night. I took a total of seven five-milligram pills over three days: not even remotely excessive!


  1. Anonymous8:51 PM

    Wow. Just wow.
    I hope all improves for you in short order!

  2. Anonymous10:16 AM

    i might worry about you, but not as a druggie.
    welcome home!

  3. Wow, Susan! It sounds like the fates/God wanted you home. Glad you managed to make it through all those hardships and home safely. I also hope your back is better now. Prayers for continued healing on that.

    Happy New Year!



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