Monthly Archives: July 2013

Ode to a Bereft Doe


Robert Burns' famous poem might just as well apply to the wild rabbit--our local cottontail. Lagomorph, not rodent. Full text, in more modern language, follows later.

Robert Burns’ famous poem might just as well apply to the wild rabbit–our local cottontail. Lagomorph, not rodent (look it up, or read on). Full text, in more modern language, follows later.

They do say no matter our own troubles, someone else has more. I stumbled over three of them this morning. Yes, they were only bunnies, but all were dead, scattered across the kitchen floor like so many dominos. Newly born, cords still wet. Joey the Hun of Facebook fame, is a cat familiar to many as marauder of rabbit nests. I know how he brings in the babies, and they’re not dead and never damaged like the ones on my floor today. Joey was bottlefed–with human milk no less–so wasn’t taught to hunt by a “real” mother. He’s somehow a stalker par excellence (they’re not supposed to be when raised by people), but he’s never perfected the killing blow. He brings his catches indoors, alive unless they’re bitty mice, with a few puncture wounds that can sometimes be mended. So far I’ve managed to raise and release three of these. But today’s babies were mangled. A crushed head, a rear leg torn nearly off, skin surgically sliced. None had the punctures associated with animal attacks. And cold as ice. They’d been dead awhile, but not eaten. Those Joey brings in are warm and screaming and can be counted on to wake me. I’m supposing he found these others when their nest was destroyed. Attracted by their flailing, he brought them inside, going back for more when each disappointed him by expiring. Cats and others going about their animal business don’t upset me (too much). Animal behavior can be brutal, but it is the natural course of things, and when observed respectfully, quite instructive. While I won’t sit around and watch Joey decimate a nest I know he’s found, it’s interesting to stalk him and see him find one, watching just the once: seeing him lay over it, wrap himself around it until the babies sense his heat and start moving, thinking it must be mum come to feed them. At that point I grab the damned cat and ground him for a month.

These healthy babies were brought in by Joey with hardly a scratch. The difficulty is in feeding them  with their peculiar digestive requirements.

These healthy babies were brought in by Joey with hardly a scratch. They required only a bit of antibiotic for having been in a cat’s mouth. The difficulty is in their peculiar digestive requirements.

But this tragedy, I’m sure, was born of human ego–a homeowner’s association gone berserk trying to “eradicate” Scotch broom. As though one could. And this does upset me. It led to a resident with a John Deere and too much time on his hands mowing down what passes for hedgerow all along the greenbelts. Fine. Keep the place presentable, but know that cottontails choose exactly these areas for their nests from June to August. And they’re not the deep, protective burrows famous in England and other places, but shallow scrapings lined with a bit of fluff and covered with a flap of moss. Nearly impossible to see. Impossible unless you’re a cat with endless patience and a knowledge of cottontail habitat. Certainly impossible from the height of a riding mower. Garden tools are notorious for ripping nests open and mutilating mothers, babies, or both.

Small, sleek cowering, timorous beast,
Oh, what a panic is in your breast!
You need not start away so hasty
With hurrying scamper!
I would be loath to run and chase you,
With murdering plough-staff…
“To a Mouse,” Robert Burns, 1759-1796

Even in the 1700s, Burns thought to grieve the harm farming activities could do these “timorous beasties,” even though mice in particular were known to contaminate food stores, overrun granaries, and nest in the thatched roofs overhead. Rabbits, likewise, have been viewed as pests simply for reproducing as quickly as the moon goes from new to full. That they patiently serve as nature’s pantry for the entire world is largely ignored. They are, however, a species of creature unlike almost any other. Not rodents, they are lagomorphs. Which means they’ve a double set of incisors and a gut that digests hard fiber by means of fermentation. Like hooved animals–like deer. In fact, wild rabbits most resemble deer in their sleek facies and graceful forelegs, not to mention their habits. They are crepuscular rather than nocturnal animals; most active at dawn and dusk, when they emerge to feed in the half-light their peculiar eyes use best for seeing. They don’t abandon their babies, but protect them by leaving the nest between feedings, just as do deer: the doe who parks her fawn behind a log, or deadfall, or bush, and instructs it to be utterly still and silent until she returns. A mother rabbit is also a doe–as her mate is a buck–and leaves her nest to wait and feed nearby so her own mature scent won’t betray her offspring.

Far from ready for release, these bunnies are attached to their human foster mother, but will become wild the moment they don't need her any longer.

Far from ready for release, these bunnies are attached to their human foster mother, but will become wild the moment they don’t need her any longer.

Private creatures, they are yet social, especially within the family. Thought to separate from their kits as soon as they leave the nest, observers are only now learning the bond is not so early severed. The worst thing I may have ever seen was a mother racing to and fro after a crow that had clearly stolen one of her half-grown babies.Too big for the bird to actually lift away, it flapped from one end of our yard to the other, with the doe running after it, frantically trying to rescue her child. When the crow tired and dropped it, the baby was recovered. It had been thoroughly mutilated–the job of some hours. In all that time the mother hadn’t forgotten about, or given up on, her kit. These are only little lives, these bunnies–whom the lawnmower man points out live here in their thousands–but these little lives are the ones they’re given–certainly as important to them as ours are to us. They are the very image of the meek who will inherit, and we have as much to learn from them as from our cat and dog friends. Sister Rabbit, Brother Dog, as Saint Francis would have said. And as some say in other parts of the world: “Namaste–I bow to the spark of God in you.”

In the manner of my people…


OK. So I said I wasn’t angry. I’ll take that back now. But being pissed off has got nothing to do with breast cancer. At least nothing wherein I can prove causation and sue people, anyhow.

Those of you close enough to hear me whine have heard about my second (yes, second) IRS audit. The Word came down just about the time I learned the breasts were history, so aside from falling apart that day, I didn’t pay much attention. Kinda like with a second pregnancy. You know what’s coming, that it’s gonna hurt like hell, cost a lot of money, and not necessarily turn out well.

The first time, being rank amateurs, we hired a tax attorney. Ended up paying him $4,000 to prove we didn’t owe the gov $8,000. The thing dragged on forever, and the attorney drove me f*ing nuts. I drove my husband likewise, I’m sure.

After dis- and reassembling the entire tax return (my work, not the $4,000 attorney’s), the man had a 5 inch thick binder stuffed with every bit of documentation I could find. He was very proud. And we ended up proving we hadn’t shorted the government a dime, though the woman reviewing us made noises about attaching a penalty for “messiness.”

Yeah. I’m a midwife, not an accountant, and I’m the daughter of both an artist and a mathematician. That’s a messy combination right there, so maybe the woman had a point. But she couldn’t make it stick.

Since then, I quit using “tax professionals” for the annual sacrifice. I knew it would come to another audit, someday, since the stuff we claim hasn’t had a reason to change. I also knew it wouldn’t make any difference to involve a third party in the deal. Instead, I bought the “audit defense” service that’s optional with most of the computerized tax programs. These guarantee you won’t get fined for messiness because they type things nicely and their math is perfect. And the poor sod being audited never has to come face to face with the nasty IRS. That’s the REAL deal. Especially when you’re post-mastectomy with a funny looking chest nobody can stop trying not to look at.

So far, so good, except when I couldn’t answer the phone & talk to the audit defender right after surgery, he got feeling sorry for me. Which means he didn’t call again. Which means that a couple days ago he did call, in a panic because his manager noticed there’d been no activity on my account. So now, suddenly, there’s a five day deadline. Not an IRS deadline, but a third party deadline (as they’d surely love it if I default and they can keep our $79.00, avoid the work, and say they’ve discontinued service for noncompliance).

What to do, what to do?

The gov’ment says they want $10,000 this time. Roughly $6,000 of that is what they say I underpaid. The rest is interest and penalties. Some of which are for–you guessed it–messiness.

Yanno, I think I’m just gonna pay the so-and-so’s. Via a payment plan. Over two or three or four years. I’d be nuts to ruin my recovery (some people go to ANY lengths for time off, doncha know). And nuttier still to go through the next surgery with this Great Matter unresolved. Or miss the impromptu family reunion my Canadian cousins have put together in the next little while.

If I get feeling better, and feistier, I can always re-submit the whole damn return. Which is basically what I did during the first audit.

Maybe Zoro will come to my rescue.

Maybe the letter I wrote President Obama (like he’ll ever see it) will bear fruit.

Nah. I don’t need to prove anything. I can pay yet another bill. Or not. Think they’d try to extradite me over $10,000? I’m just not going to worry my poor little head about it. The spouse will get on the phone tomorrow morning & use his best spouse voice to snag the best pay-the-IRS-$10,000-over-time deal.

My dad, looking on from above, will approve. And that’s what’s really important.

P.S. My parents were audited 7 times. And my dad, being an artist, had a messy room.

P.P.S. My mother, my dad’s sister, and my mom’s sister (twice), had breast cancer.

These things I do in the manner of my people.

The Heartbreak of Phantom Bra Pain


One of the more irritating features of this breast-building business is the tissue expander stage. Folks who have augmentation without mastectomy will have smaller implants placed either behind the existing breast tissue (fat & glands we associate with breast shape), or behind both breast tissue and pectorals (the large chest muscles so popularized by Jack LaLane). It’s a choice they make with the help of their plastic surgeon.

Folks like me, who have breast and underarm tissue removed in any of the various mastectomy surgeries, have a couple of reasons for needing to go the tissue expander route. If their own skin is spared, there’s no support for the implant within that empty pocket, so space must be created behind the pectorals to both support and hold it in place. It needs to be a larger space, for a larger implant, as there’s no more breast tissue to help shape it. Those who have a complete mastectomy that includes removal of skin and nipple will also need tissue expanders to stretch not only muscle, but the overlying skin as well.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: this is NOT a comfortable process. Aside from the requisite stretching and burning, I have this sense of something foreign–something large and foreign–strapped to my chest wall. All the time. It’s uncannily like wearing a too-tight bra every waking moment. And every other one, too. I’m constantly reaching up to tug on the elastic, pull at the underwire, or actually unhook the back. But nothing’s there.

Oh boo hoo. There are waaay worse things that could be happening right now.

But it is really strange. It’s exactly the sort of deja vu experience I’ve had ever since my parents died. Where I think before my brain stops itself: “Dad’s gotta see this…” or “let me just call Mom…”

I suppose in addition to grooves in my brain that track to the Mom and Dad thoughts, I’ve got another groove that tracks to the “gotta get this bra off” thought. And not just the thought, but the actual motor impulse that has me reaching up to find the thing. They’re the kind of impulse pathways that plague amputees with phantom sensations they’d swear were coming from the missing limb. Or the missing breast.

So if I’d gone with my health ed teacher’s advice and worn better fitting bras all my life–bras that didn’t create the need to reach up and yank down–would I still be doing this? Maybe some PhD-type will do a study. And give us a new ICD-9 code: phantom bra pain. I want my name on it.

“They’re heeere…”



Fake boobs.

Rising out of nothingness…Suddenly. In Biblical fashion.

The surgeons very kindly took me seriously when I said the prospect of traditional dual mastectomy horrified me. They inflated temporary tissue expanders to about half capacity before I left the operating room. So when I explored my chest in the recovery room there were these little convexities–booblets–complete with my very own nipples, right where I’d expect to find them. Mightily encouraged (this is all hearsay, mind you–I’ve no memory of it), I am said to have gleefully exposed them to anyone who’d look–the spouse, my dear friend Peggy, and whatever nurses & techs were trying to keep me breathing instead of flashing the entire floor.

So I’ve discovered an inner extrovert. If it only emerges after anesthesia, I’m good.

I was apparently good that day, as the spouse was heard to say, “Gee–it looks like you’re nineteen again!” Bless him. We won’t talk about how he knew what I looked like at 19, except to say that it involved a communal swimming pool and some self-conscious skinny dipping. There are those who will remember the ’70s & how that used to be OK. Nowadays, if I’d been much younger, there’d have been arrests.

But, nobody gets to stay 19 forever, even a second time ’round. I left the hospital with the medical equivalent of saran wrap holding my chest together. This would stay on an additional two weeks, providing increased heat within really thin skin that needed to establish new circulation, and a way to peer at the nipples–which until the surgeon told me, I didn’t realize might dry up and blow away.

So now, three weeks out from the original surgery and with regular infusions of saline, foobs have emerged from the primordial booblets. Given my profession and the profound effect words have on women’s sense of self, I’ve always been careful to give body parts their correct names–at least with patients of a certain age  and comfort level. But special circumstances create the need for new vocabulary. An email friend who’s been through the same process tells me this stage is the “foob” stage. From the Latin, of course: fake boob.

Seems entirely appropriate to me, as these have certainly passed up my 19 year old booblet moment. Booblets are cute and unassuming. Foobs, well, foobs make their own way in the world. Anyone who accidentally runs into me won’t hurt me, but might come away with some serious bruises right about foob height. Which means we’re not talking “real” breasts yet.

I’ve got another one or two infusions to go before the tissue expanders reach their limit. Or I reach mine (this is not a comfortable process). A couple months after that, once things have stretched and settled to the extent they will, the expanders are exchanged for implants that feel much more like “real” breasts. And with any luck, I’ll start feeling real again, too.

Now what?


Wrote this about a week ago and thought I’d lost it in the ether…far be it from me to waste words, so I’ll just go ahead and post it.

June 27, 2013:  OK, something has shifted in the last 48 hours. I’m not holding my breath, but I think things are on the mend. Everybody (read health care professionals) said this would happen. Being a health care professional myself, I was skeptical. But given my own evidence–an actual good night’s sleep, waking up with a headache instead of fire in the chest, and less awareness of the verdammt drains–I am forced to say I might actually feel better. Kind of all of a sudden.

So now what? A friend suggests I won’t have anything to write about once my fear and anger fade. Oh well. But that brings up an interesting question: what anger? I wasn’t aware of it. Sure, I can say “screw cancer” with the best of them (after all, my dad died of it), and as y’all know, I’d rather say that than wax on about the “cancer journey.”

I’m aware of fear, certainly, and lots of it, for all kinds of reasons. But overall I’ve had a sense of the other shoe dropping. Kind of a resigned “oh shit, here we go,” given my mom, her sister, and my dad’s sister all having had the disease.

I imagine it was either fear or this anger I’m not aware of that led to the incredible case of eczema that erupted shortly before surgery. Heck, take it a step further. Maybe fear and anger I’m not aware of led to the transformation of certain cells into cancer cells. Naaah. If I believe that, I’ll have yet another fear–that things like thoughts suppressed and emotions not felt are waiting to sabotage me in the worst ways imaginable.

Christiane Northrup, an OB/GYN who has parlayed her experience into several really fat books, is on that bandwagon. Thyroid disease? You’ve choked back enough things that bother you to clobber this major organ in your neck. Ovarian cancer? Your creative potential got thwarted and instead of making babies, your ovaries are using their generative powers to kill you. Breast cancer? Same deal.

I’m paraphrasing from memory here, and that memory’s at least 15 years old, but you get the gist. I stopped reading when I got to those parts because while I agree we’re all responsible to some extent for our health, there are plenty of extents for which we aren’t. There are genetics and accidents and just plain bad luck. And there’s cancer. Barring studies that irrefutably link it to a misspent youth and prior bad acts, I am NOT going to blame myself for breast cancer.

Now I’m not dissing the mind’s great powers of persuasion. Even evidence-based medicine recognizes any treatment can be successful a third of the time thanks to the placebo effect alone. In fact, before being declared effective in its own right, said treatment must beat out placebo by greater than that 30% margin.

During my own misspent youth, I took the training & later got myself registered as a hypnotherapist. If that doesn’t put me squarely in the camp of woo-woo science, I don’t know what does. Hypnosis tries to systematically harness the power of the mind (and, dare I say it–the placebo effect), but it’s not a magic wand that can reliably cure cancer or any other problem. If it was, I’d make a mint cleaning up the mess described by Dr. Northrup. Or my dad might still be alive. Which would really be something to write about.