Well, That’s Interesting

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

I’ve always been pleased to think of myself as a lifelong learner. I am proud, usually, of my intellectual curiosity.

I now have absolute proof that I am a nerd. I should really buy myself a Nerdy Nonni Tshirt.

Here’s what I mean.

I woke up from the pounding head pain last night and realized that the word “disgust” comes directly from the Latin root for taste, or “gustare”. Huh, I thought, holding the icepack to my temple. “Gusto. Gust. Disgust. Offtaste. Bad taste. This tastes disgusting.”

Side note: nobody mentioned to me that I might experience a sensation referred to as a loss of taste or a diminishing of the sense of taste. But I do have that. And guess what? Everything tastes disgusting.

When my Dad had heart surgery many years ago, we were all gathered around his bed as he came out of anesthesia. We asked him what he was thinking, clearly expecting some deep words of wisdom from the philosophical man at the center of our world. Dad paused and said, “I was using Pythagorean theorem to calculate the number of ceiling tiles in my room.”


When I woke up from my own surgery (after my round of trying to throat punch all the white coats), I found myself avoiding the pain by recalling all the lyrics to every old Russian folk song that I learned a half-century ago. I was able to recall every word of “Katiusha!”


What an interesting experience I am having! I’m learning many new things, about myself and about the world around me.

One thing I have learned is to use my icepack as soon my head feels like it’s being jumped on by a troop of chimps.

Have a good day!

Pain, Pain, Go Away

Photo by Camila Quintero Franco on Unsplash


I am about to try something that I have never tried before. I am about to attempt to write a post while floating painfully around my ceiling in a haze of opioid medication.

I apologize in advance. For the typos, misspellings, random words, and trailing thoughts. I apologize for the lines that will seem completely pointless to you but will have me thinking of myself as both witty and articulate.

Why am I doing this?

Well, obviously, because I am feeling the effects of the medication. I do NOT like this feeling. At all. In fact, I have spent the past 4 days drinking as much water as possible to flush my system and have used nothing other than acetaminophen and ice to manage the discomfort. I thought I was a very rugged old soul, strong and able to manage pain. Thought I was being a good patient and all that. Yay, me.

But I was sent home a week ago on a high dose of a steroid called dexamethasone, which was prescribed to control the inevitable swelling that happens after neurosurgeons dig around in a person’s brain matter for half a day. I knew that the medication was helping to keep my symptoms (ie, pain) under control. In fact, last week before my discharge I met with my nice neurosurgeon, whom I shall henceforth refer to as “Doctor Understatement.” I told him just how great I was feeling, and he cautioned me.

“Remember that once you’re off the steroids, you might get a headache.”

A headache.

A headache?!

I have had headaches my whole life. I brushed him off. I am Nonni. I ain’t afraid of no headache.

Sure, my head, and most of the rest of me, was uncomfortable all week. But it wasn’t interfering with anything. I was fine. All was well until around noon yesterday when the pounding and aching started up in earnest. Ice. Heat. Acetominophen. Repeat. The pain kept slowly creeping up. Stretch, walk, deep breaths, ice, heat, acetaminophen.

It kept on creeping, bit by bit, a little stronger with time.

I tried to sleep last night, but couldn’t find any way to be comfortable. By midnight, I felt terrible.

You see, a regular old headache is that bad pain on the inside of your skull. You feel like your brain is swollen and throbbing. Like a stubbed toe. I had that. I had a LOT of that pain.

A more unusual headache is the pain that you get after the outside of your skull has experienced some kind of trauma or accident. I had that, too. I had a TON of that pain.

And then there is tinnitus, also known as ringing, buzzing, whizzing, fizzing, roaring sounds in a person’s head that aren’t really there. I had a boatload of that shit going on.

I lay there for a while with my stubbed brain throbbing, wondering why my sleeping husband sounded like an entire Roman army marching across the rocks. My stitches itched and pinched. My bonks throbbed. Every eyeblink hurt and every heartbeat sounded like a distant bomb going off.

So I got up and made a bagel. I ate it sitting up in bed, with an ice pack on my neck and a lavendar hot pack on my eyes.

By 1AM, I gave in. I took the stupid little pill. I curled up like a shriveled worm and slowly drifted off into pounding, hissing, dinging achy sleep for about 4 hours.

So what is my point?

(Wait. Give me a minute.)

Oh. Right.

My point is this: when you have a way out of a tough situation, for goodness sake, take it. I should never have let the pain get that bad. Instead of staying ahead of it, I wanted to be some sort of warrior woman and I put myself through a lot of unpleasantness that I didn’t have to go through.

My point is that even in the most deserving of times, too many of us (me, I mean) continue to judge ourselves and to put pressure on ourselves. Nobody cared if I took my medicine. It was only me and Paul in that bedroom. I don’t know what I was hoping to prove to myself.

So this morning, after I finally pried open my sticky eyes and took a hot shower with peppermint soap to wake me up, I was determined to stay ahead of things. I sat outside, had a good breakfast, walked around the house, stretched. I felt the pain coming back. So of course, I went to my routine: ice, heat, acetaminophen. A couple of hours later, it was rising again like a tide. What a strange sensation. I should have immediately taken that pill, but I hesitated.

I reached out to my support team, Paul, and our kids. I asked for advice. And you know what they said, more or less?

“What the hell are you waiting for? You do not need to spend all day with a stubbed, traumatized, buzzing skull. Take the pill.”

I listened. I took it.

Well. I thought this was going to be funny. Lesson learned. Sometimes the post simply writes itself.

Athletic Injuries Explained

The world is full of people who love to get out there and embrace life. They are hearty, healthy souls who aren’t afraid to take risks. They thrive when they can breathe in the fresh cold air of a challenging ski slope. They are happiest facing whitewater rapids, hiking the steep and rocky slopes of giant mountains or surfing the steepest of waves.

I am not one of those people.

Nuh, uh. Not me.

Nevertheless, I am constantly injured and in pain.

I once broke a bone in my foot by falling off a flip-flop in the wet grass. Not only did I break a metatarsal, I was too faked out to see a doctor. So I walked on it and broke it over and over for six long weeks.

Then there was the time I had to go for an emergency endoscopy after getting a bite of KFC lodged in my throat.

One time a few years ago I was persuaded to go snow tubing by a group of my closest and most beloved friends. Predictably, while they were flying down the hill head first on their bellies, I carefully sat on my big old butt and went down the safest slope. In spite of my best efforts, I managed to break a rib by smacking into a five year old and then ricocheting off the teenaged boy who was there to stop people from flying into little kids.

I am a walking, talking injury report, even though my most athletic undertaking is baking bread.

I mean, I like my life. I want to hold onto it for a while. I like this old body. I try hard not to hurt it.

Even so, here I am, on this bright sunny winter morning, with an ice pack on my face, a hot pack on my back, and cannabis/menthol rub on my elbow.

What happened, you ask? Was I wrestling alligators for fun? Did I participate in a bronco busting event or play tag football with local teens?

Nope, nope and nopie.

The back hurts from holding my eight month old grandson, and lifting him in and out of his crib.

The elbow hurts from…..well….from playing the violin. I played for an hour yesterday. AN HOUR!!!!

And the jaw?

It appears that I dislocated the left side of my jaw while eating eggplant.

No, I am not kidding.

I should explain that I’ve had problems with my jaw for about 50 years. I have “TMJD” or “Temporo-mandibular-joint Dysfunction.” This means that pretty much every time I open and close my mouth the joints in my jaw make an audible “pop” as they slide partly in and out of their sockets. They ache a lot, and once in a while one side locks, meaning that I have to use heat and ice to gradually release it.

Last night I was enjoying a lovely dinner and chatting with my husband when I suddenly felt a sharp pain in the left socket. When I say “sharp pain”, I mean that for a minute there I was pretty sure someone was sticking a red-hot pair of scissors into my face. The pain radiated into my chin, my cheekbone, my left ear and my eyeball.

I dropped my fork and clutched my face.

I thought that it was just one of my usual lockjaw moments. I thought I could just massage it away.

Three hours later, my mouth was still stuck. It was open about a half-inch, but nothing I did would get it any further. I went to bed with a hot pack on my face and a couple of ibuprofen in my belly. Somewhere in the middle of the night I realized that I couldn’t actually close my mouth, either. I could get my front teeth together, but my molars felt like they were on different tracks, with the top set heading east and the bottom heading west.

There will be no steak in my immediate future.

I’m not writing all this to make you feel sorry for me (although if you’d like to send a donation to my ice-cream fund, I won’t turn you down). No, I am writing this because I want you all to understand that there is a very good reason why some of us are not the most athletic people on earth.

I want to share the pain and embarrassment that comes with being a fragile flower. There is a reasonable medical explanation for why people like me spend our days on the couch instead of the ski-slopes.

If I can be injured while walking, can you imagine me trying to skydive? I’m in serious pain and possibly headed to the ER in the middle of a pandemic, all because I was injured while EATING EGGPLANT.

No, thank you. I’d rather pass on riding my bike through the Himalayas.

Be careful out there.

Trying to be thankful

Dentist with PatientI recently read an article in a woman’s magazine about fostering a more positive attitude.  I was sitting in a clammy waiting room before a  doctor’s appointment when I found the magazine, so I needed the little boost of positivity.  I’m pretty sure that I was gritting my teeth and tapping my foot by the time I turned to the story.

Anyway, the writer talked about having an “attitude of gratitude” and how you should really make it a point to write down three things, every single day, that made you feel grateful. It could be anything, she wrote, anything from a delicious sandwich for lunch to a negative cancer test.  The point was just to open yourself up to the little things in life for which we really should feel grateful, instead of always focusing on the negative.

It struck a chord with me, for sure! Lately I have found myself becoming somewhat mired in the world of negativity, and it seemed like a relatively easy way to pull myself back up into a happier mindset.

So I started a little journal.  Some days are really easy: “The sunrise was absolutely spectacular this morning as I headed into work.  A glorious column of gold and orange rising into the slate blue of the morning sky.”  (I was feeling very literary that particular day).  Or something more prosaic, like this: “Both boys sent me messages today to tell me that they love me.”  Yeah.  Easy!

But yesterday I had a root canal. The whole gratitude thing wasn’t quite so easy yesterday.

First of all, I had a bad reaction to the local anesthesia given before the procedure, so the whole thing took almost 4 hours.  (And this was only visit number one out of three.)

I wasn’t sure I would be able to find my gratitude when I finally got home.

The thing is, I knew before I went in to the office that I have a history of bad reactions to too much novocaine.  The nice endodontist explained to me that local anesthesia contains a high percentage of epinephrine, which no doubt explains my racing heart, sweaty hands and shaking muscles after only one shot.  For a root canal, I had to have four shots in my jaw.  I was shaking so badly after that last one that I looked like a marrionette.  My cell phone rang at one point, while I was waiting for the last shot to take effect; I pulled it out, but my hands were shaking so violently that I couldn’t manage to complete a text message. All I got was ‘blblkkkk’ before I finally gave up and put it back in my pocket. Man, was I ever reacting!!

Speed will never be my drug of choice…..

The doc finally realized that he would have to use a different local anesthetic around the tooth whose canal was being rooted, telling me somewhat curtly that “it might wear off before we are done.”

Say, WHAT? The anesthesia might WEAR OFF?

The fear that followed that comment only added to my tremors, and by the time he was ready to begin the big dig, I was vibrating like a guitar string.

He put my chair back to get me in the proper position.  And by “back”, I mean that my feet were in the air, my head was two inches above the floor, and my hands were engaged in a death grip on the arm rests. Where they shook and vibrated at about 1000 cycles a second.  Sort of in time with the drill that was boring a hole in my skull.  I closed my eyes and tried to breathe deep as my thighs and calves shook and shivered.  What a weird sensation!  I couldn’t tell if I was freezing, scared to death or having a drug reaction.  Or all of the above.

If you have ever had a root canal, you will no doubt be familiar with the “rubber dam”.  This is a device that is designed to isolate the tooth being treated, to make it easier on the doctor who is drilling within a centimeter of your brain.  (For obvious reasons, you don’t want to complain about anything while this drilling is going on.)

In my case, the rubber dam was somewhat disconcerting.  It smelled like a latex balloon, and it stretched so tightly over my entire mouth that I felt like I couldn’t take in a good breath.  This is because….well….because there was a big old piece of rubber over my airway. I actually couldn’t take in a good breath. To make matters worse, that little spit sucking hook thingy was wedged in the corner of my mouth, right under the rubber. I had to concentrate to keep my tongue from being sucked right out into oblivion.

I tried hard to relax, really. I did!  I began to engage in a series of mental exercises designed to distract myself from the shakes, the freezing, the upside down position, the rubber dam covering my entire mouth and the drill digging into my cranium.  I pictured my students, one by one, seeing each sweet face in my mind’s eye. I thought about the births of my babies (OK, now THAT was pain, right? This is nothing!).  I tried to envision my best beach day ever.  I counted backwards from a thousand. I dreamed up new recipes including vodka and limes.

It was all going great for the first couple of hours. Especially if by “great” you mean that I didn’t actually shiver my way out of the dentist chair and onto the floor on my head.  I didn’t feel too much discomfort other than the sensation that my jaw was being dislocated and my right eye was bulging out of its socket.  I kept telling myself, “You’re fine!  This is nothing!  You’re fine….!”

And I was more or less fine.  Until for some reason the doctor decided to readjust the rubber dam.  I don’t know what he actually did because I couldn’t focus on the green piece of latex that was pulled like a drum skin over my lips, which were mashed beyond recognition against my teeth.  I just know that I felt a little stretch and then heard a deep, resonating “twang”! and the rubber was pulled even more tightly over my open mouth.

“OK.  No worries”, I told myself. “It’s cool”.

Then I swallowed.

Instantly, something inside my mouth, some structure or other (tongue? palate? tonsils? what the HELL?) was sucked up to the roof of my mouth where it started to helplessly flap up and down a mile a minute.  I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t stop the suction.

“Brrrrlllllppp!” I pulled with every tongue muscle I possessed, and I managed to unglue whatever the hell it was.  Oh, sweet sassy molassy, I can breathe again!!

The next hour was spent like this: “Don’t swallow, don’t swallow…oh, crap, I feel tooth chips in my throat, I gotta swallow….Brrrrlllllppppp!!”  And I’d wrench whatever it was back down and the whole process would start again.

Breathe.  Swallow. Brrrrlllllpppppp!!!

Breathe.  Swallow. Brrrrlllllpppppp!!!

After the fourth or fifth time it happened, I just couldn’t help myself. I started to laugh.  Head down, mouth open, shaking like a freakin’ leaf, I just started to laugh.  Which made my stomach lurch. Which made the doctor jump a mile and ask, “Are you going to be sick?!” with absolute horror in his voice.

Which made me laugh some more. Brrrllllllpppppp!!!

“Guh, nuh, huhuhuhuh!”  That was me trying to explain my hysteria through a rubber dam, with a spit sucking hook in my mouth.  The more I tried to restrain myself, the more I wanted to laugh. And the more I tried to hold in that laughter, the more my legs shook. Which, of course, made me laugh.

Luckily for me, the doctor in question has an amazing sense of focus. He never wavered as he bored holes in my jaw bone, dug out the canals and jammed a bunch of packing peanuts into the empty spaces. I managed to keep on breathing and to restrain the giggles and the swallows long enough for him to finish the job.

Unfortunately, the procedure lasted a bit longer than the anesthesia, so the last twenty minutes were way less fun than eating a frosted brownie, but what the hell.

At least on the way home I found my three reasons to be grateful.

1) I didn’t inhale the rubber dam and block my lungs forever

2) I managed to dig my nails into the arm rests, so I didn’t slide out of that damn chair

3) You just have to be grateful for a good belly laugh, no matter how inconveniently timed.