Friday, January 09, 2009

I'd Prefer Adobe

Usually I like to be in New York for New Year's. After all, this is where I am making a life, I should start the year here as a symbolic commitment to the place. This seems especially necessary given how ambivalent I am about living here, or in any city. Even so, I decided this year to stay in Indiana, preferring to celebrate with family, trees, quiet, and a big happy dog. That all went as planned. What I hadn't planned on was coming down with shingles.
As uncomfortable as I am, I have to say it's really not too bad so far (knock wood) and I probably lucked out in many ways. The initial symptom was a weird sensation that the skin under my skin had gotten chafed, but it approximated sore muscles just enough for me to think I was merely getting used to an unfamiliar bed. When the itching started, I attributed it to the forced air heat of my sister's house, and the dry Midwestern weather. I'm used to being a little itchy in the winter in Indiana, if I've forgotten to get body lotion. Once the lesions started though, I got a little freaked out. For reasons that remain obscure (oh, I have my theories) my skin has been rather temperamental the last five years (simply getting older figures into at least one of my theories). What was refreshing about this time though was for once a medical person could look at me and diagnose the problem immediately. My experience with many in the medical profession the past fifteen years has been they examine me, look perplexed, schedule lots of expensive tests and subsequent office visits, occasionally imply that maybe I'm making it all up, finally shrug their shoulders, wish me luck, and send me on my way without any answers. Simply getting a diagnosis was an incredible relief, and I didn't realize it would be until she gave it. I'm also grateful to have been in Indiana when all this started. In New York I would have simply waited to see my regular doctor, which often can take as much as a month because she's an over-worked good Samaritan working sixteen hour days (I suspect) in a swamped clinic, and during that month my active imagination would have conjured all sorts of implausible yet not entirely impossible worst-case scenarios. In Indiana I was able to walk into a drop-in clinic and walk out with answers and prescriptions in about forty minutes. Better still, I had my sister along for company, and her cheerful, supportive spirits practically made the whole occasion FUN.

Lunch at Laceyland afterwards revealed that I was carrying on a family tradition; both Mom and Dad have had them, Mom in fact came down with them last Christmas. Oddly enough, that too seemed comforting. At this point, the itching has stopped and the pain is quite manageable. Frankly it's not much worse than the chronic pain I've been dealing with since '92; the quality and location is different, but the level of intensity is about the same. I'm lucky in many ways; I could have gotten them in my eyes, and gone permanently blind. I could have gotten them someplace other than my chest, making it uncomfortable to sit or lie down. And yes, apparently I could be in a lot more pain than I am. I'm also lucky that I knew I was going to be in a seasonal lay-off right now, so I had budgeted last month for no work until the 20th, by which point I should be in fighting (well, as much as we Quakers fight) trim. I'm thinking the students and teachers might be less than enthusiastic about drawing me if I were still sporting my scabs.

There have been some sobering moments; I had to avoid visiting a loved one who is finishing up chemo after a year of successfully fighting cancer. The nurse practitioner told me that with his weakened immune system, exposure to this virus could kill him. She also warned me from spending time with pregnant women, immune-compromised folks, and any adult who hadn't had chickenpox. Naturally my coming back to New York on the plane seemed to necessitate snuggling up to about four million pregnant ladies, 9 million extremely old folks, and at least one woman recovering from a full hysterectomy (I learned this standing next to her in the security line, when she explained to a guard why she needed help putting her suitcase on the conveyor belt; I held my breath the whole time I was near her). Back in New York my regular doctor was able to give me a bit more perspective on all that over the phone, and I no longer feel like QUITE such a typhoid Mary. I do still feel like a leper a good part of the time though. It's hard not to, when you have lesions. I have resisted the urge to get a clapper and scream "unclean! unclean!" everywhere I go though. After two weeks away from my life here, even with the holidays, I came back to find a few things seemed to be in danger of going off the rails and I simply had to attend to them. They all worked out fine, but today is the first day since Sunday that I haven't had to do SOMETHING out and about. I'm looking forward to a lazy, loungy, easy day. The lethargy and ennui is probably due to the medication, funnily enough. When I wasn't on anything my energy wasn't too bad, and once the pain replaced the itching, I wasn't too uncomfortable. The most common side-effect of the medication (Acyclovir) is -get this- 'feeling unwell'. Okey-dokey. For now this just means I'm being lazy and unproductive COMPLETELY GUILT-FREE. Maybe not how I'd have chosen to kick off 2009, but for now I'm not minding so much. Indiana was a wonderful restful time for me, before the shingles showed up, and my impression is Laceyland as a whole had a pretty good holiday too. This has been a hard year for some members of my family; things are definitely looking up now, but I think we were all just a bit more aware of how lucky we were to all be together this year. I got a little morose and weepy towards the end of my stay, to be honest, but I think that may also have been caused -or at least heightened- by the meds. Looking at the Christmas tree at Laceyland, and thinking about the history of individual ornaments sent me into a deep Irish melancholy one evening, and I'm SURE that was the drugs. I mean, come on.
Today though, the sun is shining, I've put out all the minor brush fires, I've gotten to see some wonderful people (all with good hardy constitutions and a bout of chickenpox in their pasts) and I've got some good books to read. Oh, and some things to show you. In no particular order...
Sitting in the big easy chair at Hazelthorne (having successfully displaced Eddie the cat in it) I looked over at the tree my sister and brother-in-law had decorated. On the side closest to the window there appeared to be some of that artificial snow some people like to put on their trees. It was only in one spot though, and isn't the kind of thing I would have thought either Mary or Tony would go for, so I investigated more closely. Turns out it was an entire metropolis of spider webs, stretching from the ceiling down to the floor, all along the tree, running even to the window. I looked carefully for an enormous spider capable of such a feat, but realized that it was actually the work of a whole lot of tiny spiderlings, each the size of a dust-speck. I showed it to Mary who was similarly fascinated, and we agreed to leave it until Tony got home. Once he had a chance to marvel at it, Mary got rid of it with a feather duster. I was gratified to find that even my brother-in-law the entomologist is creeped out a bit by spiders. None of us really minded these little guys, but we didn't see any great need to let nature take its course, which would have involved them getting bigger and eating each other until one prevailed. I was also quite itchy (but in the dark as to why) by this point, and even though I knew these little guys probably weren't to blame, it was still hard not to associate them with my malaise. You know, itchy, creep-crawly bitey things, the imagination can do wonders with that fodder. Here we have Mom flanked by two of her best friends. This image epitomizes something cozy and home-like for me. Mom has the guarded look most of my family members have when I try to take candid shots. I don't know what Fang is so alert about. The three of them spend a good amount of time like this. Cleo is also fond of taking Mom's chair at the dining table, forcing Mom to perch precariously on the edge. God forbid she actually move the cat.

I'm beginning to think Fang doesn't like having her photo taken either. This is probably because when I'm trying to get a close-up of her, I'm trying to get her to look at the camera and hold still. This really only happens if she is resting. I wonder too if having a camera lens aimed at her feels just enough like being stared at for her doggy wariness to kick in. I have at least one shot of her where she looks as if I were scolding her. I did manage to get a few shots of her though. Here she is opening her Christmas present. One of Fang's favorite activities is disemboweling stuffed animals. She saves all the pelts, occasionally burying her bone under them so she can 'dig it up' and she'll often settle down for a nap with all of them resting between her forepaws. Clearly she loves these toys, but only when they're pelts. Giving her the present right away meant she was happily distracted while the rest of us unwrapped things. She is thorough and unrelenting when it comes to evisceration. The floor was quickly covered with fluff.
After many attempts over many days, she finally let me get a close-up of her resting. This is the only shot where she agreed not to move either her tail or head. If you look carefully in the upper right quadrant, you can see the mighty hunter poised to catch a vole. At this point Fang has at least fifteen squirrels, a handful of baby rabbits and god only knows how many voles under her belt. She's an effective killer of small animals. Kind of makes the disemboweling of stuffed animals a little less cute, huh?
While Fang appears shy around cameras, Cleo the Laceyland cat just never seems to have time in her schedule for photographs. I get the impression she's had to deal with a lot of paparazzi. Eddie, the cat of Hazelthorne, on the other hand, not only is quite willing to hold for photos, he seems even to pose at times. Yes, the majority of them involve lounging decoratively on a bed in the sun; I didn't say he was innovative, but his sense of composition is decent. He might even know which is his best side. In real life it often looks like he's wearing a lopsided toupee (earning him the nickname Mr Tudball), but that isn't what comes through in the photos I've taken so far.

To his credit, he's also fairly playful, affectionate and goofy. I've learned to love cats, but I still bond more quickly with cats that act like dogs. If I want to be ignored by an animal I'll get fish. Or a pet rock.

My siblings and I still make Christmas cookies every year. We use a recipe of our maternal grandmother's (the one who could cook, according to Dad). It would be so easy to feel a little bashful about maintaining such a tradition now that we're all in our forties, but fortunately no one seems tempted down that path. I suppose holidays often come with traditions that tap us back into child-like pleasures. I certainly look forward to this every year.

As usual, the two weeks included several satisfying walks. I may share more photos from them over the next few days, once I figure out how many different shots of trees I really need to subject you all to. Funnily enough we never had any snow, and more than one day was virtually spring-like. All the storms that passed through went north of us, to my disappointment, to be honest. Bad weather did manage to turn my four hour flight to Indiana into an eighteen hour day (and as Tornwordo observes, just sitting for that long is exhausting), but even that was because of trouble everywhere else, not where I was coming from, or where I was going. Ah, the romance of air travel. I respect it when weather reminds us that it is still in charge, though. Luckily the trip home was as easy as could be, since I now had the shingles to remind me that my body isn't always under my control either. So far that seems to be the message of 2009, for me: let go. Workin' on it. (The shot above is sunset on Christmas Day, looking out the living room windows at my parents place.)

I hope your holidays were comforting and joyous, and that the new year is starting off full of hope.


Greg said...

What a beautiful and full post! I'm hardly sure where to begin. (Of course, you've already my full sympathies on the shingles, so we'll move on.)

I think I've fallen in love. Fang is the most beautiful creature - I especially love her alert expression in that photo by your Mom and I'm out-and-out jealous of your time with her this holiday.

Do you know the old Christmas story about the spiders who wanted to see the tree and accidentally webbed it...and the webs were then turned to silver?! This made me think of that.

Yay, Christmas cookies and what festive decoration of them, too! Does that box really say "Neon"?! I'm glad to hear that, despite some setbacks or trials, your holidays were pretty wonderful.

All good things to you in 2009, my dear pal.

Gillian said...

Everything Greg said and more! What a great post Patrick. Your family looks amazing, the walks, the house, the cookies, the animals. What a charmed life! Save the shingles, ew!!! Poor you!!!
My hols were good thanks, as yours were I can see.
Happy New Year Patrick!
If Joe were still blogging, I think he'd say Happy New Year too!
Look at me, talking for Joe!!!

Java said...

That last picture, the Christmas Day sunset, is so beautiful!

What a lovely holiday visit with your family! Thank you for sharing it.

My sympathies, dear Patrick, about those shingles. I'm glad you have had a mild case. Yes, the itching can be much worse than the pain sometimes. I hope this is your final experience with shingles.

Father Tony of the Farmboyz said...

skin is a chore
we ought to be coated with teflon

Birdie said...

Such a mixed holiday. But what better place to heal than with loving family such as yours?

I'd swear that your Fang and our Sophie are cousins. Even the pelt collection is a similar trait. We have bunny, squir- uh, rodent, monkey, and numerous plush bones, all of which used to have squeakers and fluff. Of course she brings these vile stiff and chewed pelts to our laps for tug of war.

May the peace of Indiana combine with the stimulation of NYC to give you what you need this year.