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Two week update

Today marks two weeks since the removal of my thyroid.

Perhaps I should’ve updated more often, because now the first week is kind of a hazy memory.  I started weening off the pain meds at about one week.  Then, on Monday, I drove for the first time.  I still have to turn my whole torso to look behind me, I can’t tilt my head back much at all, and it still feels like my neck is sewn on too tight.  My incision is pretty dark and is about 3 inches across – longer than I thought it would be.  I’m used to it now and am taking pictures as it heals.

Almost from the day I got home, I had a good bit of energy.  When they handled my thyroid to cut it out, it likely stimulated it to release a bunch of extra hormone into my bloodstream before it was removed.  I experienced palpitations during surgery (I was told by the anesthesiologist) and for a few days afterward, but they felt very minor compared to those I experienced in my hyper days.  Because it is often difficult for me to take it easy when I’d rather be productive, I don’t think I allowed myself as much rest as I really needed.  I forgot that just because I felt fine didn’t mean that there wasn’t a big slice across my neck that needed healing, and that the body heals when at rest.  So two nights ago I crashed.  My digestive system started acting crazy, I had terrible cramping all night and into the next morning.  The minute my morning green smoothie hit my lips, it felt like my entire intestinal tract went into spasm and I couldn’t even stand up straight.  I was informed that I was probably dehydrated on top of not getting enough rest.

In an effort to aid in my further healing, I rested all day yesterday with my kitty Lilly, who did not leave my side and is currently napping next to me as I write this.  I got a full night’s sleep, took an easy walk and then napped three or four times throughout the day and still went to bed and slept like a log.  I must have needed it.  I’m taking it easy again today, drinking plenty of water and resting.  I ran the essential errands – kitty litter, kitty food, and groceries.  I have all these other things that I’d like to do today:  make soap, clean out the refrigerator, put my laundry away, clean the kitchen floor.  Then I remind myself that there is plenty of time to do those things and the priority now is rest and healing.  I go back to work on Tuesday and I’m not going to take the chance of exhausting myself during the time that I need to be recovering.  It’s easy to forget that my body is using a lot of energy to regenerate tissue and heal the space where my thyroid used to be, I just need to step aside and give it the opportunity to do so.

I don’t really know yet how the synthroid dose is suiting me, since I’m only two weeks out and I still have my own hormone running through my bloodstream.  My educated guess is that I’ll start to have an idea starting at about six weeks out from surgery.  I’m hoping for a relatively seamless transition since I feel I’ve already paid my dues over the last six year roller-coaster ride of hormone fluctuations.  I’ve already wasted too much energy on anxiety and feel there’s no more to spare on something so useless.  From here on out, I can only look forward.  I promised this to myself before the surgery and so far that promise is holding solid.

I have a follow up appointment with my surgeon on Monday and another with my Endocrinologist on Wednesday.  I am fairly confident that they will both tell me that everything is looking good and that I’m recovering nicely.  It’s really strange.  I have to keep reminding myself that I’ve already done it.  That the surgery is behind me.  I feel like along with my thyroid, the surgery removed a lot of the weight of the world from my shoulders.  Granted, I still have my struggles, like anyone does, but I feel lighter.  I’ve always laughed easily, but the last couple of weeks have been full of laughter and ease that were hidden in shadow, previously.  I have a tremendous sense of freedom and relief.

I feel joyful that I can walk around with my hair back and my head held high.  I almost feel as if I had plastic surgery.  I’ve rid that sense of shame and embarrassment formerly choking me.  I may have a big red slice across my neck, but I feel good and proud and slightly bad ass about it.  It’s proof to me and everyone who sees me that I’ve faced one of my biggest fears and came through with flying colors.  It’s my own permanent merit badge.  I love my scar and life!  I am a walking medical miracle now.  Without the little pill I take every morning, I would slip into a myxedema coma and die within a matter of weeks.  We are all lucky to be here, to be alive.  “There, but for the grace of God”, I genuinely get it now, to my core, and I hope to hold it with me further on this path.  All we have is now, and right now is good.  In that spirit, I’d like to leave you with another lesson in the words of Pema Chodron:

The Path Is the Goal

What does it take to use the life we already have in order to make us wiser rather than more stuck?  What is the source of wisdom at a personal, individual level?

The answer to these questions seems to have to do with bringing everything that we encounter to the path.  Everything naturally has a ground, path, and fruition.  This is like saying that everything has a beginning, middle, and end.  But it is also said that the path itself is both the ground and the fruition.  The path is the goal.

This path has one very distinct characteristic: it is not prefabricated.  It doesn’t already exist.  The path that we’re talking about is the moment-by-moment evolution of the world of phenomena, the moment -by-moment evolution of our thoughts and emotions.  The path is uncharted.  It comes into existence moment by moment and at the same time drops away behind us.

When we realize that the path is the goal, there’s a sense of workability.  Everything that occurs in our confused mind we can regard as the path.  Everything is workable.

I would like to say, again, a big, big thank you for all the support I have been receiving throughout this experience.  Well wishes, flowers, smiles, hugs, thoughtful texts and inquiries, prayers, vibes, and all the rest.  It’s truly had a positive influence on how well things have gone so far and has helped lift my spirits overall.  Thank you, thank you.  What an incredible healing force you have all been.

 

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2012 in Total Thyroidectomy

 

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You should see the other guy…

So far, so good.  The follow up stuff has become a bit of a hassle just as the rest of it was, but I’m taking it in stride.  I’m not willing to get stressed out over stupid little stuff that will get worked out in its own time.  I’m in good spirits and a little bit of pain.  Not too bad over all.

I got my sutures out yesterday.  The nurse put steri-strips over the scar immediately afterward, so I didn’t get to see it.  They just look like white tape and will come off on their own in about a week.  She said that there’s about a cup of fluid in the area where my thyroid used to be.  The initial rush of fluid was drained through two holes in my neck and the light suction of a spring loaded contraption.  Gross.  It was to avoid infection, but it was kind of weird to see.  Anyway, she said the fluid is normal and it will be re-absorbed by my body over the next few weeks and that is what is causing the swelling and that too will go down over the next few weeks.  At times, it feels as though I have an air bubble in my throat, the kind that hurts.  It’s just the fluid pressing on my trachea and that will also dissipate.

Right now, it looks like there’s a worm taped to my throat.  I understand that it will take about six months before the scar flattens out and becomes less red, but I think I liked the Frankenstein stitches better….  Made me want to say “you should see the other guy” to people who stare when I pass by.

My new medication routine consists of taking a synthroid pill from the refrigerator each night before bed and putting it in a little cup on my night stand next to my big hospital jug of water.  Then, when I wake up, which has been anywhere from 7-9am, I take the pill and go back to sleep.  By the time I get up, it’s been at least an hour and I can eat or drink my breakfast.  Been going with green smoothies the last couple of days.  Lots of vitamins and phyto-nutrients to get my body on track towards healing.  I’m also counting on the cleansing properties of the greens to help with all the drugs that have been pumped through my body in the last week: who knows what kind of anesthesia, morphine, oxycodone, acetamenophen, stool softeners, blood thinners…

Here’s the recipe for my green smoothie, it’s super cleansing, yet palatable:

  • 1 small frozen banana
  • 2-3 big kale leaves without the stalks
  • 1-2 stalks of celery including leaves at the top
  • 1/2 c. parsley
  • 1 c. frozen, mixed berries
  • 2 oz. aloe juice
  • 1c. cold, purified water
  • 1 Tb. chia seeds

It takes some effort to get the greens blended in.  I find if you put most of the heavy stuff on the bottom, it can get a good enough start that it sucks the greens right in.  My boyfriend says it tastes like bark, but my mom and I both enjoy it.  I know it sounds horrible, but it’s kind of fresh and tart, and if you’re like me, just thinking of why it’s so good for you is enough to enjoy drinking it.  You can add about half a cup of juice to make it a little easier to take.  Apple cider works nicely.

That’s the news so far.  I still find it difficult to imagine going back to work after only one week.  Even to a desk job.  My neck gets tired of holding my head up and though I can turn it to the side, I couldn’t turn it as far or as fast as driving necessitates.  I’ve been getting better each day, whether it’s walking further without getting fatigued or being able to lift myself up from bed without supporting my head.  Today felt like a plateau day, but I’m going to go walk a mile and see how I feel after that.  I am making progress though, and that’s how I intend to continue.

 

 

 
 

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Quick update – over the first hurdle.

Just a quick update.  I’m told the surgery went quite smoothly.  I’ll give details later, but I came home yesterday a little later than anticipated due to a mix up with the lab work being entered into the computer with my calcium numbers.  I finally got a good night’s sleep last night.  I took a walk around the block today.  I’m able to eat solid food.  Had oat groats for breakfast.  Still crushing up the pain pills because it does hurt to swallow.

The site on either side of the three inch incision is what hurts, where the drain tubes were.

I get my stitches out tomorrow, but don’t worry, I took pictures.  It’s very Frankenstein-ish.  It looks like I’m wearing a shiny red and black necklace.  When you get up close, it looks like there are lips sewn shut on my neck.  The surgeon told me not to freak out when I saw it because he does this kind of sewing technique that not many people know how to do and his minimal scars are one of his bragging points.  It doesn’t quite seem real to me yet, so it’s more fascinating than anything.

Forgive my scattered post.  I wish I could write with coherent, complete thoughts, but unfortunately, that’s not how my brain is working due to the pain medication (let’s assume).  I seem to be moving right along as far as feeling better, though when I sit up straight or stand, it feels as though there’s a five pound weight hanging from my incision.  As if my neck is sewn too tight.  I can’t tilt my head back, but I assume that will improve when I get my sutures out and as time passes.  It is hard for me to imagine that some people return to work after just one week…

That’s all for now.  I can’t do anything for too long without a break, but I imagine that will improve quickly as well.  In good spirits over all, so that’s good.  I had the best mashed sweet potato of my life last night.  I think that’s why.  Don’t even get me started on what they tried to feed me in the hospital.  I read the labels.  It’s a damn shame.  Plenty to post about later.  Glad I’m over the first hurdle.

Thank you everyone for your support and encouragement through this important first step.

 

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Here goes…

Well, what’s left to say?  I spent the day running last minute errands.  My mom and I went to the Farmer’s Market to get mushy food in case I feel like I can’t put down the solid stuff.  We got some sweet potatoes for mashing; lots of beans for pureeing; kale, bananas, berries, and parsley (forgot the celery) for smoothie-ing; soup for healing…

Yesterday I worked out the crazy medical bills that have started to come in and stress me out.  I paid the $54.00 doctor bill which is separate from the hospital bill in that the doctor charges for the interpretation of the ultrasound and EKG while the $399.00 hospital bill is for the actual ultrasound performance.  The $889.00 “this is not a bill” statement of charges that is being sent to my insurance is for the EKG and laboratory work that was done during my pre-op appointment – fortunately they did not have to re-do the pre-op or that would’ve been a really expensive cold I caught.  I thought I was only going to be responsible for a little over $1,000 for the actual surgery, but after the second woman I spoke with and the varying ways different people code medical procedures, I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to be facing financially.  The good news is that two of the three people I’ve spoken to at the billing department of Emory University Hospital told me the something similar, which is that I can arrange a payment plan once I receive a bill and I don’t have to sort it out beforehand.  So, I opened a tab with $399.00 which I will begin paying in May since I don’t work two weeks this month, and as I receive the next two, I can just call them up and have ’em put it on my tab.  Gotta do what you gotta do, eh?

Earlier today, my surgeon’s secretary gave me a call to make sure we’re still on for surgery tomorrow.  Not sure why she didn’t call the first time, but she did have heart surgery recently, so I’ll give her a pass on that one…  She’s a sweet lady, a bit odd, but in a good way.  While I had her on the phone, I asked her a question about something that has been concerning me.  T.M.I. ALERT!!  My period is due tomorrow.  Of course that’s no guarantee that it will come, but the way things have been going, I figured I’d be in for it on surgery day.  I know that when you have anesthesia, you have to remove all metal from your body – jewelry, piercings, etc., as it will burn you or something of the like.  On top of that, on my first go-round, they told me to get completely undressed under my gown, under-roos and all.  Since you never really know what goes into certain products, and if I were to use an internal feminine hygiene device a tampon, what if there’s some metallic derivative, like how they use aluminum in antiperspirant, and I end up with third degree burns on my delicate lady walls?  As ridiculous as that sounds, I’m not taking any chances.  Maybe they have some kind of surgical menstrual diaper or something, how do I know?  So she puts me on hold to ask the surgeon before I could protest, then comes back on the line and tells me “He said ‘you’ll be fine'”.  Oh, good.  I guess I’ll just ask tomorrow if circumstances call for it, like I should’ve just decided to do in the first place.

So, that’s what’s going on with me.  A little more peace, a little more ease.  I do still have a bit of the collywobbles.  I had one angry outburst due to an upturned bowl of quinoa and broccoli, as well as a couple of stress dreams, but overall, doing much better than the first try.  It’s really strange how this feels physically.  The first time, I was so knotted up that a two hour massage couldn’t fix it.  Then, after the post I wrote about the three poisons, where I realized I had the choice to let go or try to hold onto my metaphoric jello by squeezing it in my fist, I really did let go.  I completely forgot about the knot in my shoulder, it just dissolved.  What I’ve been feeling now is the very same feeling I felt in my body while getting ready for the seventh grade dance where I told my “boyfriend” I’d kiss him afterward; the very same feeling I had five minutes before the end of the school day in seventh grade as I prepared to speed-walk out to my bus while the six girls who bullied me daily chased after me, threatening to “kick my ass”, as was the popular phrase back then.  Whether it was anticipating an exciting first experience or the fear of physical harm, it was the exact same feeling back then, and the chemicals running through my bloodstream are the exact same ones now.  They transported me back to those moments instantly, like a smell that puts you in the most specific time and place.  The fire in my belly makes me wonder if I’m excited, like I’d feel if I was moving to Paris, but the brain says “Holy shit, I’m about to jump off a ten story building and I’m not sure if that’s a regulation air mattress down below”.

I’m experiencing some unease, but I think that’s natural for anyone about to go under for any kind of surgery.  The difference this time is that I’m breathing, thinking and feeling more positive, and absolutely ready to lift this heavy burden that I’ve carried for the last six years so that I can move forward with my life and do the things I’ve been wanting to do.  I’m looking forward to not losing any more precious moments that would’ve been filled with laughter and joy, but instead were filled with self-consciousness and focused on ways to hide my neck.  I think of how many more moments I could’ve enjoyed in my very special trip to Costa Rica, how many more pictures I would’ve participated in, how many more times I could’ve been truly present.  I’m ready to participate in life instead of hiding from it, one step at a time.

I have to be to the hospital at 7:30 a.m. and surgery is scheduled for 9:30, but I’ve been told it will probably be at 10:30 since it’s not a normal surgery day.  I anticipate returning home on Saturday morning.  I will try to post about my experience as I recover and I also have some pictures that I might share.  I also have a few episodes of An Idiot Abroad and Arrested Development to keep me smiling.  Thank you to all of you who have wished me well over the course of the last few months.  I feel surrounded by light and love, and I am smiling.  Here goes…..

 

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You can’t hold onto Jello by squeezing it in your fist.

Things have slowly settled into place since my surgery was rescheduled.  My boss at work retooled the entire schedule so that I could work a full schedule up until the day before surgery.  I know that had to be a pain in the ass, so that felt really generous of her.  Even though I did end up with a couple of extra days off the first week, which makes finances a little tight, at least I’m not out of work for a month.  That’s a huge relief!

I was able to reschedule my tax appointment for a day that does not interfere with work.  That was a concern since my tax guy is way out in the suburbs.  To make tax day easier to take, the three of us (my mom, Anto, and myself) are going to head up to Amicalola Falls afterward and make a day trip out of it with a picnic and a hike.  Lovely.

My mom’s original return flight was April 1st.  Being that my surgery was rescheduled for April 6, we looked into what it would cost to change the return date.  Turns out it would be about $350!!  So, I looked to Ol’ Faithful: Clark Howard’s Atlanta travel deals website to see if there were any deals.  It just so happened that Frontier was running a special to Albuquerque, where my mom lives.  We decided to wait a day or two to book the one way ticket, as we were waiting to hear back from the surgeon’s secretary who told us she might be able to reschedule for March 30.  I went to check if the deal was still on the next day and all the information was replaced with a notice that the Clark Howard show was on vacation in Europe and travel deals would resume the following week.  What luck!  If I hadn’t checked it the day before, I’m not sure I would’ve discovered the fare sale.  So we went ahead and booked with Frontier.  It cost $244, including two checked bags which would’ve run an additional $30 for one on the original flight with United.

As it turns out, I may even just get a night or two in the cabin in the woods, yet!  My mom will only be here for one week following my surgery, rather than two, so if we can get it, we’ll go to the cabin just four days after my surgery.  Knowing that many people with desk jobs return to work after one week, I am hoping that a one hour car ride won’t be too much for me.  I think a couple days to relax in the woods will be just what the doctor ordered.  *fingers crossed*

So, it seems that when you just let go, things eventually work out.  I can’t tell you how stressed I felt the moment the decision was made to delay surgery.  Not knowing how difficult each variable would be to change.  I just had to approach it one thing at a time.  When I wrote the last post, I had chosen to let go and felt a tremendous weight lifted.  Fortunately it stuck.  I’ve remained loose.  It had been like trying to hold onto Jello.  The tighter I clench my fist, the more of it that squeezes out through my fingers and onto the floor.  If I just open up my hand and let it be, it’ll wiggle and dance in its gelatinous glory and remain in one piece.  Then, if it still flops on the floor, it’s because there was an earthquake or I fell asleep, either way, due to events beyond my control.  Not the most graceful analogy, but you catch my drift.

 

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Do Over.

I had an epiphany yesterday.  As positively as I may seem when writing about this experience so far, ending my posts on the positive note, I hadn’t felt that way offline.  The entire past few weeks, I’ve been emotionally and physically tied up in knots.  My shoulders have been up to my ears and I couldn’t loosen up despite stretching and massage.  I was flailing about desperately.  It put a strain on my emotional well-being, my physical well-being, and the well-being of a most important relationship.  I have to say, I was really surprised when taking the perspective of the outside observer.  I normally lean into the dark, messy, scary parts of life.  I am not afraid of my emotions, I understand that they pass through like a storm or a cold, and know not to identify with them or let them envelope me.  I normally would consider myself pretty strong and feel like I always pull through when things come down to the wire.  I was surprised to see how difficult I was making this on myself, how much resistance I had, and quite frankly, with how little grace I was approaching this ordeal.

My Mom and I did a Native American ceremony, like we’ve done for most of the big events in my life, to help me to say goodbye to my thyroid the night before the surgery.  I did some heavy emotional and spiritual work for over two hours.  I realized that I have so many personal issues tied to this decision.  In many ways, I’d felt like a failure by not being able to heal myself and that cutting it out is equivalent to giving up/quitting/failing.  I questioned whether I’d been on the verge of healing and was I giving up right before some great success, like healing wasn’t possible sans gland.  I’ve chosen to give up the illusion of control and the most fundamental form of self sufficiency.  These are difficult things for me to give up.  Letting go of my thyroid goes against some of my very strong convictions.  Many times it’s the belief systems that are harder to let go of than anything else.  This is the work I did Monday night.

I made some progress, enough that I was able to go through with it all before the surgeon called it off.  I woke the next day feeling pretty depressed.  I wrote about it.  I did indeed go for a walk, which made me feel better, but those feelings crept back in later that evening.  I couldn’t sleep, I was feeling desperate, looking to cling to something, some kind of guarantee.  Looking back, I know that it was all in an effort to avoid, to resist, to shield myself from change, from fear, from the ache of loss.  The irony is that all of these attempts just exacerbate those feelings that I was so desperately trying to avoid.  We can not both fully live and avoid these messy bits.  They are part of life.  I was reminded of this the next morning.

I awoke Thursday knowing that I could not continue to approach the situation the way I had been, and I picked up Comfortable With Uncertainty, 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion, by well known American Buddhist nun and author Pema Chodron.  Among others, I read the following passage, which spoke to me and opened me to epiphany:

The Three Poisons

“In the Buddhist teachings, the messy emotional stuff is called klesha, which means poison.  There are three main poisons:  passion, aggression, and ignorance.  We could talk about these in different ways — for example, we could also call them craving, aversion, and couldn’t care less.  Addictions of all kinds come under the category of craving, which is wanting, wanting, wanting — feeling that we have to have some kind of resolution.  Aversion encompasses violence, rage, hatred, and negativity of all kinds, as well as garden-variety irritation.  And ignorance?  Nowadays, it’s usually called denial.

The three poisons are always trapping you in one way or another, imprisoning you and making your world really small.  When you feel craving, you could be sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon, but all you can see is this piece of chocolate cake that you’re craving.  With aversion, you’re sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon, and all you can hear is the angry words you said to someone ten years ago.  With ignorance, you’re sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon with a paper bag over your head.  Each of the three poisons has the power to capture you so completely that you don’t even perceive what’s in front of you.

The pith instruction is, whatever you do, don’t try to make the poisons go away.  When you’re trying to make them go away, you’re losing your wealth along with your neurosis.  The irony is that what we most want to avoid in our lives is crucial to awakening bodhichitta.  These juicy emotional spots are where a warrior gains wisdom and compassion.  Of course, we’ll want to get out of those spots far more often than we’ll want to stay.  That’s why self-compassion and courage are vital.  Without loving-kindness, staying with pain is just warfare.”

That was the one that blew it wide open for me.  I’ll spare you a line by line analysis as to how this resonated with me, but the short story is; the reason I’ve been having such difficulty is because I’ve been using every trick in my book, every old pattern from childhood to try to avoid these poisons as if they’d kill me.  Hilariously enough, as most of the lessons in my life tend to be, it is all due to a decision I made.  Oh, life, you’re such a prankster!  After reading several more passages on the heels of this one, I realized that I can simply decide to let go, let that stuff in, breathe, and enjoy the life I have rather than be consumed by avoiding.  I did, and instantly my body loosened up, my mind freed up, I felt like I got my life back, like I could be me again.  This surgery being delayed gave me a chance to do it over again with some dignity and grace.  I found something bigger to lean on, something that won’t crumble under the weight of me and something that creates space and light within me.  I just need to remind myself if the vices start to tighten again.

 

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Complications of a delayed surgery.

Woke up this morning feeling pretty depressed.  I haven’t had a good run or bit of exercise since last Wednesday.  Between this cold and a pollen count of over 9,000 (extremely high considered to be >500) the one gentle walk I’ve taken to try and get my system moving probably swept more junk into my lungs than it expelled out.

I also woke up from a dream in which my boyfriend angrily yelled at me to not be frustrated (which, literally, does not happen in real life) and thinking about my work situation.  I’ve been saving money for the last few months because I knew I’d have this time off, so it’s not like I won’t be able to pay my bills, it’s just that it looks like I’m not going to be working for the better part of a month.  Thus using twice as much of my savings as I originally thought I’d need, thanks to this glorious f*@%ing cold that already kept me from working last Saturday.  Once again, I’m going to have to overlook the negative aspect (the financial), appreciate that my health is the priority, and look at the positive: some unexpected time off while I’m up and about.  Time with my Mom, who I so seldom get to see.  And who knows, maybe I’ll even get to go to the cabin in the woods for those two nights next week if no one asks me to work for them.

So, I sit here drinking some reheated coffee that is too sweet and too old, but it is good.  I was without it for a few days and with the blood supply being cut off to my thyroid, it’s a little piece of heaven right now.  I think what the body and mind need today is a good, long walk.  Maybe I can even try a run in a few days after it (hopefully) rains and my lungs are clear.  Today though, a drive out to the park for a good, long walk in the woods sounds like it should lift this cloud that surrounds me.

More good news…  the swelling at the first I.V. site from yesterday where the nurse exploded my vein is much better.  When I took the bandages off last night, I had expected bruising, but I also had some serious swelling which I found surprising.  It is now only slightly puffy, and I can hang my arm normally by my side without any pain.  I still have some purple writing below my neck, but considering what’s come so far and what’s to come soon, who gives a flying rat?  You could also surmise this to be my attitude if you’d seen my hair, face, and clothing through the rest of the day yesterday and this morning.  Sometimes other things are more important.  and I’m okay flopping about for a day or two like a ragamuffin.

Operation cloud raise today will consist of coffee (which I’m currently placing in action), a good 5 mile walk in the sunshine, a shower, a load of laundry, and a few chapters of Mike Birbiglia’s Sleepwalk With Me.  Then if that gets it halfway up, maybe making a batch of soap would finish it off.  Wish me luck, ’cause this cloud is thick as the morning fog in San Francisco Bay.

 

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