Montag, 12. Dezember 2016

Rosie's first footrace

2010 me
Yesterday, I spent an amazing evening, running 5km with my spouse and a load of people in costumes.
5k doesn't seem like a lot, but it was to me.
I'd tried running once before, back in 2010. It was a help to manage grief, but I couldn't manage much without needing the bathroom.

So, I was the supporter at foot races when my husband ran, and walked a 5k while he ran a 10k in San Francisco. We finished at about the same time. 
Jogging became an exciting goal when I was looking forward to my permanent ileostomy. And once I was given the ok from doctors, I hit the gym. 
"first jog in 4 years and I only visited the toilets to take a selfie"
I mostly jogged on the treadmill at the gym, but had a few goes at outdoor jogs once the temperatures got more manageable this autumn, but they were baby steps and I was quick to tire.
This Thanksgiving, I got my first snowy jogs in while staying in Western Mass with the family. 
I learned then how helpful my husband truly was at helping me jog correctly. And he motivated me and distracted me when I needed it. I learned to work on my breath-patterns, my body posture, my arm swings...
"running errands - forgot to bring tissues on our jog"

I began to surprise myself on my bike, never able to predict what gear I was in, because I could pedal more easily. I began running outdoors more and seeing that each run required less effort. But I felt my body and it complained and I let it stop the instant I'd fulfilled my goal for that day, sometimes just a meter or two short of it. 
By race day, I'd successfully done 4km multiple times, but not made it to 5, so I was feeling insecure. At first the fears were rational. "What if I can't do it? What if my feet/legs/shoulders hurt? What if I feel nauseated?" These were things that had stymied me in the past and previously I'd given in and quit, more recently I'd powered through. 
As we biked to the race, I kept taking deep breaths. I was totally in my head. Ivo said "Did you hear that?!" I hadn't "That kid thought that you were St. Nick's helper on a bike!" I was wearing a santa hat for the run and hadn't heard the kid at all. I must have been scowling. I felt like a jerk. 
By the time we neared the race, my thoughts had turned to the irrational, "What if all my guts fall out? What if I have a sudden stroke? What if my legs, just, stop moving?!" 
But by the time we were at the starting line, all my fears were gone. I was distracted by the energy and the costumed people. It was like a party. Ivo and I danced around to keep warm. The announcer was so enthusiastic and everyone was cheerful. Then we were off. 
With the huge crowds and the ever-changing width of the path, the going was slow. I'd never passed another runner before, so it took a couple of kilometers to give it a go. At one point, I patted someone's shoulder to pass and I think it may have been rude. But the guy read my number sign aloud and seemed empathetic in his reading aloud of "Oh es ist ihre 1st 5k." 
It was thrilling and fun and not nearly as hard as I'd anticipated. I was carried along with the crowd and sucked in energy every time we passed folks cheering on the side-lines. I did my best to slow my pace for endurance vs speed, but it was hard. I felt a bit ill when I went uphill in the second round, but that was mainly because of my dancing and singing along with the music in my earbuds. I had one bud in in case I needed it. And had begun listening when we were even with a group of people in Trump costumes, who were getting booed. The booing dampened my mood and the music got me up again. 
I was nauseated more thoroughly as we neared the finish line and the sent of something cooking on grill stands near the finish line nearly did me in. It was disgusting. But I crossed the finish line, put my hands on my knees and breathed and the nausea passed once I let out a gutteral moan. I broke into tears, really embarrassing sobbing tears and Ivo grabbed me and lead me to a safe space and we hugged and I cried. I was elated. I trusted my body and it saw me through and I was astonished. And I missed my mum. I wanted so badly to call her. 
after - glassy eyed and hungry
So I called my favorite woman - my sister - and facetimed with her and my nephew. He is 5 and asked what place I'd come in. With a bright red, wet face, I told him that I did well and that it amazed me and that was good enough. But he's 5. My sister got it. She told me about her cross country days and I felt so surprised to relate to a cross country story!

Freitag, 11. November 2016


My first ever election was also a presidential election. I was planning to vote for Ralph Nader, but an appointment to check out an abscess led to hospitalization in a neighboring state and I was unable to vote. (They had absentee ballots but only for residents of the state.)
I woke up on November 6th and the rest of my stay in Floating Memorial was spent watching chaos on the news. That was my introduction to the electoral process.
Election 2004, I was registered and voted in Philadelphia; the day after Halloween. That night, my boyfriend - now husband - was in Boston, waiting in the cold with Kerry supporters. He'd not been allowed to vote, but was excited to see this part of the victory. The summer before, I'd visited him in Switzerland. His friends and family were excited about the coming election. The courts had elected W. previously, but the American people would set it right...and that Chicago politicia's speech at the convention! But alas, the American people gave him their stamp of approval and the next day I couldn't stop crying. I went to my nanny job and hugged my charges a bit too tightly and during nap time, my boyfriend and I tried to console each other over the phone.
Four years later and a time difference of 6 hours away, I went to sleep before the election was called. The phone rang in the middle of the night and my husband asked if I wanted to get up. I told him that if the results were unfavorable, I wanted to enjoy the not knowing a little longer. But the caller was our friend downstairs, ringing to tell us that Obama had won. We turned on the telly and cried and hugged. We rang my brother who was in the streets of New York, celebrating with his neighbors. We had friends over to watch the inauguration.
Election 2012, we'd just been living in the US and were still so hopeful and very gratified at the outcome. I mean, come on, "binders full of women"?

Laughing on Wednesday

Wednesday morning, my husband and I made plans to meet for lunch before he left for the office. He'd been working on the sofa since 4am, but it was time to go to the newspaper and attempt to make sense of the American election for his Swiss readers. The idea was, that it we had an anchor in the middle of the day, it could be an oasis. It meant that he wouldn't sit glued to his computer and experience the distancing power that writing the news apparently gives to reporters, if they can be believed. It meant that I wouldn't sit on the sofa with my sore throat, stuffy nose and headache, crying over the news all alone.
After a couple of hours of mouldering in the internet, I got dressed up and put myself together as much as possible and set out to walk, to brave the fresh air, clear my head and clear my head a bit. I ran a couple of hours, used a bunch of tissues, and as I was heading to my husband's office early with a book - for the companionship - I got a phone call.
(I'm crap at answering the phone, especially when I'm feeling fragile, but I've learned that it's the adult thing to do, so I did it.)
The oblivious fella on the call said that he saw that I regularly attended a fitness center. (Effing Base Fit...selling my information...) As someone who is clearly interested in my health, he thought that I would be an excellent customer for his health insurance company. Oh how I laughed. It was so refreshing. Oh, how I needed to laugh and how that man delivered it to me on a silver platter.
"Pardon me, but your information about me is woefully full of holes. I work out regularly, I have an artificial intestinal exit, I've had Crohn's disease for 20 years and took injections that cost 4,000 CHF per month for 4 years very recently. You don't want me as a customer. Let me be someone else's problem."
He thanked me very genuinely for my honesty and wished me a good day. It couldn't be that. It wasn't a good day and hasn't been a good week. But for a 4 minute phone conversation I had a laugh at a man who had rightly mistaken me for a healthy person. 

Montag, 22. August 2016

First days

The neighborhood was buzzing this morning, with kids on their way to their first day of school. When I was heading home in the lift, I was struck with a memory of a first day of school when I was teaching Kindergarten. One of our German students came on his first day with a traditional first day of school Tüte.
My co-teacher Katherine stared hard at the huge cone of treats and school supplies in little Morton's arms while she answered my question about what it was. "It's like a traditional gift for German children on their first day of school and it mocks poor Swiss children. We grow up watching German programs and think that the Tüte is a tradition here too and then our first day of school comes and there's no Tüte." There's no school bus from the American series, or snow days or prom and I'd heard from other Swiss (and Lichtensteiner) friends how kids pop-culture had confused them. 

So today, the Swiss kids were on their way to school, sans Tüten, but full of promise and many accompanied by a parent for the only day this year. (Though neighbors complain that parents are getting more American and sometimes using a car to pick up their kids as if they can't just take public transport or walk home.) 

Samstag, 30. Juli 2016

First hiking weekend

These kids with their slang and their "butt-hurt." They wouldn't know butt-hurt from butt-numb. I've had what amounts to Montezuma's revenge for the last 20 years. I know from butt-hurt.
I'd never been able to hike for more than a few hours in the past. With a regular need for a toilet, hiking was tricky. I couldn't eat just before or during, so I could never go on a hike long enough or demanding enough to require provisions. Until now.
When surgery was first proposed, my husband was psyched at the idea that we might one day go camping. But more immediately, he was psyched for a wife who liked to hike and who could hike. Because I did like to hike. But near the end of each hike, and for the following few days, I would suffer. My husband didn't quite realize the extent of my suffering until he could see its absence this weekend.
We have often done cycling tours to celebrate our anniversary, and they've been incredible. I'm so grateful to have a partner who is flexible in his expectations and the best cheerleader I've ever known. The idea for this year's hike came to us last autumn, and I was a bit nervous in the initial planning stages, if I'd be able. After surgery, when it was clear that I was not at risk for the worst of the complications, we started planning more concretely. We planned a route, booked the dog sitter and got our hiking gear in order.  The week before, I began to get nervous. Swiss mountain-folk started reacting to our plan with surprise; saying that it was a pretty difficult hike. I wasn't sure that I'd be up for it. I was so unpracticed. On Thursday, I took my new boots and my new ostomy-friendly hiking clothes up and down our local hill to check them out. I went up and down the 400 meters and felt great. So there was nothing to do but pack and go.
The weather looked like it could turn poor, but not dangerous. Folks had gotten stuck in snow the week before and there had been so many violent storms this summer, so we wanted to be safe and sane. We left Falera early Saturday morning, eating our packed breakfast on the Post Auto to Ilanz. We were in time to make the 7:40 bus to Vrin, but sadly the driver forgot to change his sign from Ilanz to Vrin, so we were given an extra hour to have coffee and relax and marvel at the muddied kids returning from the local festival, which had been struck by lightening and turned accoustic early Friday afternoon.
On the bus to Vrin, we were in the company of other festival-goers and a group of people from the East of Switzerland, who were....very energetic and excited (sauglatt). Luckily, they transferred to a smaller bus in Vrin to take them further up the mountain, while we hiked the road 10 km on to the proper path.

We walked up - all day. We went up to the most gorgeous views I've ever seen. We walked over waterfalls, we walked up paths that didn't curve as softly as those other paths that make steep mountains more manageable. We walked up past young men using the last of their cell phone signals. We accidentally walked off the proper path and went along the narrow, steep paths that only cows use, and then we reached steep wet cow pastures, full of poo, just as it began to rain. My legs ached. We'd taken about a break every 45 minutes. Ivo offered to take the flasks that I was transporting along with our food, but it wasn't the weight. It was the effort. This was new for me. We'd been going up for hours and I'd never climbed so much in my life.
Eventually, we reached our peak elevation. "I'm dizzy with success!" I panted. It was an ongoing joke that had begun earlier in the hike, when there was still enough breath for talk of history and politics and told me about that Stalin speech. It had come up when our eyes tried to accommodate the new, incredible views. At the signs for the path markers and elevation, there were a group of hikers with umbrellas and clear, disposable rain ponchos - the Eastern Swiss from the bus!
Surely the Terrihütte was just around the corner? No. We  still had to climb down a super steep trail and cross a river and then climb up a path that involved boulders and helpful chains and then back down a path on which Ivo - with his super heavy pack - slid multiple times. We started inventing dialogue from our cinematic journey - Game of the Rings / Lord of the Thrones - until - at last -we reached our destination (which was, of course, the journey all along, blah, blah.) When we got into the mud room, I lay on my back; so dizzy was I from success.
3 Bernese youths, who had been alternating the lead with us since we went astray from the official hiking path, congratulated us. Once we'd changed and had some salty soups and sweet fizzy drinks, we went out into the sunshine on the wet peak to stretch our muscles and cheer on a family of hikers - drenched and considerably young and exhausted - as they arrived, dizzy with success.
I didn't care that a 13-year-old in skinny jeans had managed the same hike. I was so thrilled that my body had managed the exertion and I felt incredible and so strong. I didn't even have any dehydration headaches. (I've been learning about my different hydration needs this summer, with my new gut length.) I kept remembering my cousin Mike's loathing of hikes that lead to places where cars can go. He seemed to think that hiking up to a peak, only to meet people who'd achieved the same goal with a motor was a bummer. But here, the only way up for people is walking (with the exception of the Terrihütte staff and foodstuffs, which are brought up regularly by helicopter.) 26km, 1300 meters up.
At dinner, while scarfing multiple portions of risotto (food has never been as delicious as it was during this hike), we were gifted with the view of 30+ capricorns availing themselves of a salt lick that had been provided. It was amazing.
Next day, it felt like we were part of a huge group. Breakfast was over at 8 and people got themselves packed and geared up and as clean as the freezing taps in the bathroom would allow and wandered off in their various directions. Our table mates from dinner and breakfast were on our path for a while. We scrabbled down a couple of crevasses together, wondered at some marmuts, who played nearby up-wind of us, and then parted ways as they hiked Vrin-ward and we headed to the Ticino.
We needed fewer food breaks on the way down, but required more water breaks. We had a picnic on a rock in the middle of a waterfall and dipped our toes into the chilly water.

Ivo's heavy pack really taxed his poor feet. But we had hours to go. We began making up our own fake Italian slang. We had to hike an hour and a half farther than expected once we realized that our destination had poor bus service when school was out. But we did it, and we did it well, speeding up to catch our bus in Olivone, by-passing that group of Eastern Swiss hikers again! Then on to Semione, where our dizziness from success made that last 45 minutes of walking to our B&B just exhausting. But we'd done another 39 km of walking and my body was no worse for wear. I had to red marks on my back from the back pack and a bit of leg and foot soreness that night, but no more than my extra-fit spouse.
I am a hiker!!

Freitag, 8. Juli 2016

cut off in Europe

I feel so very powerless. I share grief and shame and frustration with the US, but I am so far away. Every time I contact police stations of areas where I used to live, asking for them to affirm their attempts and plans to improve their policing and stop this senseless killing, I am so aware of the fact that my voice is calling out from very far away.
When I was in San Francisco this spring, I saw a police officer break a young, cooperative black man's arm. I tried to intervene, I took a photo, I took a badge number and I contact the station. Had it been a few years prior, I would have said that I was an SF tax payer, that I was an SF citizen, that I was a member of that community and that I was outraged. But I felt unheard as a visitor from abroad.
Don't get me wrong, I am a tax-payer. I am an American citizen and I pay my federal taxes and I vote in the elections that I'm allowed to. But I feel so helpless. I feel like my words fall flat when I try to reach out as an ally.
So today I'm reaching out and trying to find all the ways that I can help. Seeing where I can donate, what I can share, whom I can contact. In the meantime, I'm trying to be a responsible and involved citizen of my adopted home.
Maybe it's easier to be sad that they people around you are not feeling the grief and outrage you are when you're abroad. I suspect that it'd feel a hell of a lot worse to feel this alone in grief in the US. 

Freitag, 24. Juni 2016

cut off in the countryside

We had my oldest nephew, Luan for a visit this week and it was a real treat. I was excited about our alone time that would precede meeting up with his favorite uncle Ivo, but once we had, when Luly and I were recalling what we'd done that afternoon, he told him "Jessy verzählt nur Kabbis." It's true, I am a silly goose, but it wasn't until Ivo and I were talking about the visit next day, that I realized that he'd thought that all the "gems of wisdom" I'd thought that I was sharing, were lies and hooey.
Luan moved to a farm house before he turned one and his favorite animals are cows, even though they're his neighbors. He's the second oldest of 5 and when we made our plan for his visit, he had all the ideas: He wanted to swim or visit a museum, depending on the weather. He wanted ice cream and to eat in a pizzeria - which he's done before and we're not to think differently. Luan 'speak cabbage' himself and has shared fantastical things with us for years, mostly parroting other peoples' experiences. He's 6 months older than my next nephew and they couldn't be more different. Simon is a city kid, he's curious as a cat and hungry for learning and has big idea. He was verbal and keen to read and write far before Luan, which makes sense as Luan speaks an unwritten language. I know Simon better and am more used to relating with him and so tried to tell Luan things that I thought he might want to know. I asked him loads of questions too, like when he thought that someone had drawn a flag on the rocks with felt tipped pens. (It was graffitied with spray paint, but we'd had a think about it together.)
When Luan and I arrived in the city, he was overwhelmed - as usual - and I tried to give him loving support. When we got in the tram, he was keen to find a seat for just us, but it was all full up and we sat next to a young man speaking arabic into his cell phone. Luan was not keen. I thought that I'd take the opportunity to educate as a way to comfort. I told him that when I first moved to Switzerland, I didn't understand any of the Swiss people when they'd speak their native language. I told him how scary that was, and how it felt to be in such a new and different place, but how I'd learned through experience and am grateful to know many languages now.
When we walked from the tram to the pool, Luan said he'd 'never seen so many bikes in one place' and I taught him that the bikes with the big, hearty tires were mountain bikes. I told him that I'd not ridden one, but that I've gone down a mountain on a push scooter with the same big tires. (I think that he may have believed both of those things to be the "Kabbis" of which he later spoke.)
The line for the pool was 'the biggest he'd ever seen' and he was frightened of the loud and boisterous children. I quite liked the resulting clinging that he did to me, but it also made me nervous. He's always been a shy kid, but he told me he'd never seen so many 'different' kids before. I thought about this last bit when I saw a graphic of the map of who voted what in the Brexit referendum. Luan is a country mouse and is scared of different people and thinks that I'm lying to him when I tell him about different people and or experiences. 

Donnerstag, 16. Juni 2016

One foot in one land and another on a banana peel

I've been a resident alien in Zürich for 9 years, but it's the 10th anniversary of my moving here this month. This autumn, I can get my C-permit (touch wood) and then begin the naturalization process. I can speak in dialect, I know that I'm meant to hate taking antibiotics and I make all the right sounds of excitement and disappointment while watching the football. You can tell that I'm a proper American Ex-pat, because my English is annoyingly influenced by all the GB Ex-pats around me. But I'll get to that.
The heartbreak over the hate crime in the US last week was felt across the world and it's timing with Zürich Pride seemed to make it more present than it might have been. But I'm only an LGBT ally and I'm not in the States and I'm acutely aware of how different the mourning here is for me.
But today was an online meeting for volunteers for Voters Abroad and I am feeling inspired. On the meeting, the "cheers" and "cheerios" and whatnot made me cringe, when I recognized that we're all susceptible to the English we most often hear influencing our native tongue.
But I'm doing something. I'm involved. And it's giving me strength. Because I'm becoming the neighborhood grumpus. People here seem to think that I might have insight or hope on the subject of the US presidential election, which I do not. As I was leaving my building a couple weeks ago and was in a stressful situation; I'd just discovered that I had an issue that needed to be handled with antibiotics, so of course I was upset. Just then, in my state of stress, with my stinky dog needing to relieve herself, a different neighborhood grumpus approached me with her newly abbreviated greeting of, "So, der Trumpf, gäll?" As the american kids say, I just couldn't. I responded automatically and shortly and embarrassingly with "I don't know! I can't do this now! Leave me alone!" I felt just awful about it (and apologized to her later), but it was a tipping point. I know that I shouldn't have let my pain and fear and painful fear of American politics let me treat a neighbor poorly. But I truly don't know what to say to Swiss people when they want to know my opinions on American politics. I'm clueless. I'm informed as an outsider. I'm missing the context. It's like before the elections in 2008, when European media painted the US as a country saturated with guns and hate and ignorance. Palin was all over everything and I had no context to frame it in. But a visit to the States that summer made me see it very differently.
I feel contextless. But I am an American abroad, with the privilege and  obligation to vote and I'm getting excited to help others more easily do that as well; to give ourselves our own context. What has become the joking "Was meinst du zu den Trump?" has become a more frightened plea for my offer that my motherland will not unleash a reality tv star on the world. Because I'm an American in the context of a continent that was nearly destroyed by hate and north of a country that was more recently negatively effected by the leadership of a reality TV star and failed business man. 

Mittwoch, 8. Juni 2016

10 years ago today

10 years ago today, I moved to Zürich. Back then I knew about 13 words of German, was fresh from a crohn's flare and had no idea what I should do with my new degree.
I left a couple boxes of stuff in my mom's basement, had bid Philadelphia adieu and flew to my new home with my new (as of 2 days before) fiancé.
I'm at the point now, where people seem less impressed with my Swiss German than they used to be. It's not that I'm bad at it. It's just that previously, my swiss german was good for someone who hadn't been here that long. Now, when I tell someone who's said "You're American and you speak in dialect?!" that I've been here 10 years, their face changes from having been impressed to being...well... whelmed.
I've not been in Zürich the whole ten years, of course. There was a year in the States in between, where I relished being in the same country as my family - though equally far away. While there, we spoke Swiss German at home, celebrated the 1st of August and baked the same Christmas cookies that we would have back home (mailänderli.) I've still live on this block, in this city, in this country longer than I've lived on any block in any city in any country. Which just seems kooky.

Montag, 2. Mai 2016

Be Optimistic

Sometimes I think that if I didn't have a chronic illness, I'd be the most optimistic person in the world. But then I can't know that, because my practiced optimism (see: at times lying to myself) is a gift of having to get through life with a chronic illness.
My handsome and healthy spouse has now taken on the voice of me 10 years ago. (I'd been ill about 8 years when we met, so I suppose that he's right on schedule.) I'm here, reveling in every bit of evidence of health, embracing every moment that my healthy body gives me and when things go poorly, holding on to the optimism that I'll be that way again. But it takes regular practice.
I've got granulomas and these chronic infections popping up as a result of undissolved self-dissolving sutures and it's a real bummer. Old me's voice pops in my head and worries that it could mean something worse, that it could be the start of fistulas, that my honeymoon of things going well after surgery was short and is over. Ivo's voice pops up in a more actual way and says things like "what the hell" and showing more signs of being bored of me being in pain. Not bored of me, but he just feels the monotony of me being in a painful situation and feels bad for me.
So I'm here, and I've had a painful weekend - but rallied for a nice long walk with spouse and pup, did all the things I needed to to take good care of myself - and I'm waiting on my doctor to write me a prescription for antibiotics and I'm feeling optimistic that the pills will work as well this time as they did last time, I'm hopeful that this problem will stop reoccurring, I can practically see my wonderful, sutureless life...
But if I'd never been ill, I might have never known this kind of positivity in the face of chronic health issues. I had this big massive surgery and I got a little cocky about the long-term positive change it would be. But I have an incurable illness and will always have an incurable illness and I've got some incurable, chronically occurring positivity - with bouts of doubts. 

Dienstag, 22. März 2016


In the lead-up to my mother's death, I gained strength through the support of my siblings. When I saw her suffer, I was grateful for her DNR. I knew that I didn't want anything to prolong her suffering.
But when the time came, oh I wanted her to breathe. I kept fussing over her and my siblings were somehow able to stay calm for her. So I excused myself and left the house. I was beside myself. I had no idea what to do. I'd grabbed my coat and my wallet and I walked to the liquor store down their road and bought cigarettes. (What else would an ex-smoker who was upset about her mother dying of cancer do?)
I needed to call somebody. But I didn't have my phone. I had my mother's phone and every number in that phone's address book were people who were suffering about their loss. But low, my father's number was in there! My father, who'd had an amicable relationship with my mother since they agreed to be good co-parents at their children's milestones like graduations and weddings and whatnots. My father, whose text message to my step-father had given him the strength to call hospice for my mother and prepare for the end. 
I called my dad and plead with him to tell me how to be like my siblings. Quick! Just tell me how to be calm and helpful because I have to go back in there. 
My father told me that it sounded like I did a good job. Just before my mom's death rattle began, I cleaned her up, changed her diaper, changed her bedding, got her comfortable. That was something I could do. My siblings were doing what they could do now. He gave me peace and got me to breath deep and as I hung up the phone, I turned to my husband who'd joined me on the front lawn to tell my that my mother had died. 
The peace my father gave me in that horrific moment is something amazing to me. I've never been more grateful for anything before or since so far. 
Now his partner is dying and I wish so desperately that I could give him peace.  

Mittwoch, 16. März 2016

That creepy story

Monday I had pain and yesterday there was a wound and today I got some care. It was all ok. The sutures that should have dissolved didn't and were expressing their need to be removed.

I visited my local stoma counselor and as they are all psychic there, she told me that though she was removing my stitches, I should know that I have NO chance of this causing my stoma to slip back into my body. I dunno how they do it without a crystal ball or some magic cards or anything. They just know my brain. And my brain is always expecting the zebra at a horse ranch. When taking hormone shots for IVF, my mind went straight to extreme ovarian over stimulation. And since  February 4th, I have had reoccuring nightmares that my intestine gets sucked back into my abdomen. Even though the more common issue is it herniating further out of the abdomen.

If you're not grossed out yet, I shall tell you that creepy story. The one that I try never to tell to any hypochondriac: Back when I was in Floating hospital in Boston, I was allowed to have a roomate again after I had my lower intestine removed. (If you've got to be in hospital with Crohn's, it's pretty great that they typically give you your own room because of Cdif risk.) The chick who moved into my room had a story. She was 17 and seemed way cooler than me and had arrived at the hospital in a chopper after breaking her ankle in South America. They'd set the ankle and sent her home, but it was all inflamed and they had to operate and reset it back in Boston. Her mom was super attentive in the way that a mother would naturally be after allowing her minor daughter to go to South America without her and return broken.
While attending to her daughter, my roommate's mother was rubbing some cream on her daughter's knees for her. It was a lovely smelling cream and was meant to help her daughter relax and gave the whole stinky hospital room a lovely lavender scent. Her mom asked her "What's this? Does it hurt or itch?" and her daughter and I both got curious. The mom showed the lump that she was talking about and palpated it gently and gasped "oh, it's moving!"
My roommate got her own private room once they'd opened her back up and removed the things that had hatched inside my roommate's wound from her break in South America.

This story gives me perspective. I can remind myself that I'm dealing with a horse problem. But it also gives me the peace of knowing that there are Zebras out there. 

Dienstag, 15. März 2016


Back in 2007, I was in a crime book club. I don't enjoy reading crime books, but I'd heard that they argued a lot and 2 of them were German, so I thought that I could improve my arguing in German as a newcomer to Switzerland. It was true and even when I didn't partake, I got to hear a lot of arguing in German, which was quite helpful.
We never discussed the books until after dinner, so during the first hour or so of our get togethers we'd eat dinner and discuss politics and religion. (I wish that I was joking.) As the 2008 elections heated up, the subject of Obama came up and I got my first chance at germanic repartee when the two German members mentioned their knee-jerk reaction to seeing a population whipped into a froth by a charismatic leader. I got it and everything, but Obama was whipping people in a super positive way so I didn't get their fear.
I get it now.
This blog has begun to resemble an ostomate or infertility blog in the past year and I've never really written about politics, but I've been thinking about that book club dinner as the primaries and debates are raging back in the motherland. The two Germans in my book club never said the word "Hitler" because they're German and not trolls on the internet, but we all know that that's what they were talking about, yes? That name has been tossed around will nilly and it feels like it's lost its powere, being associated as it is with people who believe seemingly anything and express that belief online. But when I see the things happening at Trump rallies and hear the things that he's saying to froth up his supporters and the elections in Germany, which feel so fear-fueled....

Sonntag, 14. Februar 2016

Our Convalescent Home

Two weeks before I  went into hospital, my downstairs neighbor broke both wrists simultaneously. Can you imagine? 4 days later, her upstairs neighbor broke his thumb - an inconvenience, to be sure, but not nearly as limiting as broken wrists. Then another neighbor did her ankle in. The younger tenants in our building were dropping like flies.

I was going in to hospital for gut stuff, so my first thoughts about the neighbor with the broken wrists was, "krikey! How do they go to the toilet?!" And instantly had new gratitude for my functioning wrists.
In the lead up to surgery, gratitude was everywhere; I'd bend and stretch and twist and turn and sit down hard, grateful for my functioning and (for my norm) pain-free body.

This morning, I noticed something that I have noticed many times before, but this time it made me cry. My husband was putting on clothes to go cross country skiing, he had a full belly after having eaten a large breakfast, and his only concern was if there would be traffic and how soft the snow might be. Seeing this and trying to imagine what that must be like just brought tears to my eyes.
Not even 2 weeks ago, I was cross country skiing, but I had to wake up two hours earlier than Ivo so that I could eat breakfast and digest in time for physical activity. I was nervous the whole morning, looking forward to the gorgeous views and the sweat and the flying across the snow, but I was girding myself against all of the ways that my body could potentially betray me. But this morning, I saw my husband and knew that such thoughts have never troubled his mind. He broke a bone in Kindergarten and since then, the only time his body hasn't been exactly where he expected it to be is when he's had a cold.

I am hopeful for the relief of a fraction of my body-betrayal anxiety to be removed in future, once i've healed, but I can not even fathom what that would be like. 

Dienstag, 26. Januar 2016


As I sat on the 3rd floor of a four story tattoo parlour in Zürich, the tattoo artist chuckled while scrolling through google images, called up with the term "Doppelpunkt." I'd just told him that I wanted a "Doppelpunkttattoowierung" because in English, that punctuation mark shares it's name with an organ that I've been missing for nearly 20 years. And there on the screen was a drawing of a colon (or Dickdarm.)
There is already a post on this blog about the regret I have for the tattoo on my back, which I got in 1999. I still very much love the tattoo on my shoulder, which I got in 2010. I learned from the first that I should have and like the idea of a tattoo for a good long while before putting ink to skin. I first got the notion of this tattoo nearly a year ago and it made me chuckle. Then I started seriously thinking about it in earnest in the spring. I would have waited the full year of considering it, but I've got a rather largish surgery coming up early next year. When I mentioned the tattoo idea to my gastroenterologist, he chuckled and then told me that I should get it in time to be healed up for the surgery or well after the surgical wound has healed. I went for before.

Donnerstag, 21. Januar 2016

Still talking about language

When we met the surgeon who will be caring for me at the Unispital next month, we got the obligatory question about our last name. Yes it's Dutch and yes Ivo is Swiss. There we were, talking about my surgical history and then the two of them started asking about accents. The doctor assumed that I was Dutch, and I told him that I was American. Then a bit more chat about the risks of the surgery and what to expect of healing and then Ivo had to ask him about his dialect. He was born and raised in Zürich but both his parents are German and so he understands the difficulty of speaking in dialect, etc, etc.
This year is my 10th living in Switzerland and the fact that I am an American speaking Swiss German no longer elicits the surprise it once did. Instead, when people ask how long I've been here, the response to my answer is a nod of acknowledging that that makes sense. So it was nice of this new surgeon to act as if my language acquisition was anything but ordinary.
We made it through the appointment, the heavy chat and the light accent talk and then we said goodbye to him and his assistant, who'd been silent the whole time but bid us adieu with the strongest French accent in the world and had Ivo and I chuckling on the way out of an emotionally exhausting consultation.

Dienstag, 19. Januar 2016

Ode to my abdomen

It's January and I'm aware of how succeptable I've been to New Year weight loss advertising in the past. This year, all I want is to enjoy my strong body before surgery.
When I was 16, I had 2 temp ostomies in 9 months. The first was an ileostomy (where the end of the small intestine was outside my body for 6 months.) the second was after my ileum had been reconnected to my rectum and a loop of small intestine was outside of my body to let the new connection heal. 
When I woke up from my second surgery, my bellybutton was gone. I was cross with my surgeon and he (a former mechanic from the Bronx) said "I didn't do it. Someone else closed. It might still be there but got staples in. But if you did lose it, it's the ultimate rebellion. You'll never need a tattoo or piercing."
It was just stapled in. I was relieved as only a self-conscious 16 year old can be. 
I've lamented my abdomen for nearly 20 years. I try to have scar pride, but can't help to notice the buttock effect of a scar through a middle whenI look down at it.
But now that my middle will be changed dramatically and permanently, I'm feeling a lot of love for it and wish that I'd given it more respect in the past.

Dienstag, 12. Januar 2016

Bowie Bandwagon

Last night, we ate dinner in front of the record player and played each other our favorite David Bowie songs - pausing for the BBC special and to watch the episode of the Extras, when Bowie sings to Ricky Gervais.
My husband and I went on our third date to a Bowie concert in Boston. I began to have my doubts about him when he started calling the Fleet center xenophobic for not accepting his swiss passport to buy beer, but reconsidered when I discovered they wouldn't accept my RI license either. Then there was that point when I saw his face when Bowie was singing Ashes to Ashes and I was so moved.
I'm a child of the 80s and so 80s Bowie was my first Bowie. But the time that I began to appreciate Bowie as an adult was at a weird basement bar in downtown Providence. I started going there with my boyfriend when I learned that they would serve an underaged me. (I'd order scotch neat so that they wouldn't know that I was a secret 19 year old.)
There we attended the weekly open mic night, mostly in support of my boyfriend's co-worker. He was a slight man with an astonishing voice. But each time, a middle aged man with messy hair, a paunch and a bit of a grimace on his face would sing Space Oddity, using different props each time and making exploding sounds at the end of it. At first I disliked this guy. His voice was ok, but he seemed so uncool (and I was 19, so it was my job to organize things into "cool" and "uncool" categories.) But over time, I came to love the way that this guy was expressing him. It was clear that this song was important to him and he was singing it with his whole self. It became beautiful to me and I can't hear it without thinking about this fella's enthusiasm and love of Bowie or Kubrick or space or whatever it was that was moving him.
When Kristin Wig sang it in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, I cried. As I've mentioned in past posts, I'm a crybaby. But I was also thinking of that open mic guy. My mom and I talked about that film before she died. She expressed an interest in seeing it. I think she'd read the book. And what I remembered most was this scene (my husband most remembers the long boarding ahead of the volcano.)
My husband is not a cry baby, but when the BBC went from the different places where Bowie had lived and showed the mourners collected, he got a bit weepy. It sometimes feels weird to be so sad about the death of an artist, but seeing all of those many people who were so touched all over the western world was really moving.