Barb’s Bad Trip, or The Importance of Researching Drug Interactions

I’m really happy to say that aside from the persistent cough from hell, I am over the horrible head cold I contracted at the beginning of February. It was a bad one. It scared me, if I’m honest. I thought I was never going to feel better. I was wondering if it was a function of getting older, or if bugs are evolving into frightening, insidious things that attack you from a whole host of angles. Either conclusion had me worried about future illnesses.

But it turns out that I brought much of my woes upon myself. Because I had such horrible vertigo and mental confusion, and a desire to sleep at least 20 hours a day, I wasn’t thinking clearly at all. If I had been, things would have gone much differently.

Much of the time I was so dizzy that I felt as if I were floating 6 inches above the ground. And unfortunately, I often didn’t feel as though I were floating upright. Sometimes I felt like I was sideways or even upside down, or swinging slowly back and forth. And I couldn’t focus on anything. People would tell me things and I’d forget them 30 seconds later. And I couldn’t recall words for the simplest things, which made it impossible to communicate clearly.

Me (while floating upside down), “Hey, um, what’s your name? Could you get me a thingamajig? I need it for… something or other. La la la la la…Zzzzzzzzzzzz”

The scary part is that I tried to power through. I drove my car in that state. I operated a drawbridge, possibly the heaviest piece of equipment on earth. La la la la la.

But I just had a weird, modern head cold, right? I’ll be fine. Nothin’ to see here. (My goodness, but people look funny when you’re looking down at them from midair. Wheeeee…)

Sometimes I’d start to feel better, and I’d get all hopeful, and then a few hours later I was floating again. I didn’t know what to do. I felt so awful.

And then one day, something happened that even I couldn’t giggle haplessly through. I had a dentist appointment to get a filling in a tooth. I remember driving there. I remember walking in the door. But I don’t remember anything about the visit. Nothing. I “woke up” halfway home, half my face numb from Novocain, not knowing where I was. And I was alone. Driving.

Okay, so this isn’t just a simple head cold. Something is seriously, seriously wrong. So wrong.

So I started reading up on the medications I was taking for the cold. My doctor had been out of town, so her colleague had suggested, among many other things, Nyquil, Dayquil, Mucinex, and either Robitussin or Delsym for the cough. Well, I had all those things in my cupboard. (Actually, I had Mucinex DM, not plain Mucinex, but heck, it was Mucinex, right?)

It turns out that all of those things, without exception, have one thing in common. Dextromethorphan. And what are some of the possible side effects of Dextromethorphan? Dizziness, mental confusion, and exhaustion. And oh, by the way, one should not take Dextromethorphan while taking a certain kind of anti-depressant that I just happen to take.

Oh, joy. Much of this had nothing to do with the sickness at all. In actual fact, I had been stoned out of my flipping mind for two weeks. And I’d start to feel better, but then I’d take some more meds to help speed up the process, and I’d be tripping once again. 24 hours after I stopped taking all of that stuff, I felt just fine, except for the cough.

I can’t stress this enough, dear reader. Read about your medications before you take them, even if they are over the counter things. Ask questions. Discuss their interactions with your doctor and/or pharmacist. Be an active participant in your health care.

The ugly truth is that I could have killed myself or someone else. That’s such a sobering thought that all the Dextromethorphan in the world can’t wipe it from my mind. That was a bad trip, and as with most bad trips, it could have easily been prevented.

This experience also reinforces my desire not to do drugs. Believe you me, I’ll just be saying no for a long time to come. No, no, a thousand times no.

observant-f

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Mojibake

Have you ever had a conversation with someone, only to discover at the end that you were talking about two entirely different things? It’s very disconcerting. It’s like opening an important document, only to discover it’s full of incomprehensible symbols like this: �.

According to Wikipedia, when you get that garbled text, it’s a result of it being decoded using an unintended character encoding. It’s called Mojibake (which means “character transformation” in Japanese). I’d go into more detail, but it would quickly get over my head. Read the Wikipedia article if you’re into that kind of stuff.

But what intrigues me about Mojibake (aside from the fact that it’s a really cool sounding word) is that you can look right at it and know instantly that something is amiss. But you can’t always do so with the verbal equivalent.

Miscommunication can be dangerous. Wars can start on a misunderstanding. And as I experienced quite recently, friendships can end.

Confused conversations can also be hilarious when two friends finally realize what’s going on. But surely those misunderstandings can occur between two people, and each of them walk away being none the wiser about the mistake. How often does that happen? There’s absolutely no way to know.

I don’t like the concept that the foundation of our day to day communication is resting on sand, and can be shifted without our knowledge or control. I hate being misunderstood. I like thinking that the world is solid, and black and white, and that we all grok it in the very same way. But no.

I’ll just have to comfort myself with the fact that I learned a new word today. (Thanks, Mor!) And the next time I have one of those confused conversations that end in laughter, I’ll look at the person and say, “Mojibake, my friend.”

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A Fever of Stingrays

I just heard on the radio that a group of stingrays is called a “fever”. I don’t know why, but that just makes me really happy. I love how creative our language can be.

But it makes you wonder, who got to decide the “official” name for each grouping of animals? Was it a person? A committee? If so, that had to be the most delightful job in the world. (I think that’s the only occupation that’s cooler than my own.)

I can just imagine some people sitting around a table in silence, and then one of them perks up and says, “I know! Let’s call it a Tower of Giraffes!”

After general chuckling, someone else says, “Motion carried!”

Brilliant. And it’s quite obvious that this person or group had a lovely sense of humor. How else would they come up with a Confusion of Guinea Fowl or an Intrusion of Cockroaches? How about a Rhumba of Rattlesnakes? A Wisdom of Wombats?

I feel like jumping on the bandwagon, so I am coining a phrase that I can’t seem to find anywhere on the internet. Let it be known throughout the land that henceforth a group of Bloggers shall be called a Rambling.

A Rambling of Bloggers. Yup. I quite like that.

stingray

Proportion

I recently got screamed at for leaving a fingerprint on a microwave. It rendered me speechless. I am always shocked when people react all out of proportion to a situation. I mean, it’s a fingerprint, not toxic waste. It took me less than a second to wipe it off. And that whole time, the world continued to revolve around the sun.

According to Dictionary.com, one of the many definitions of proportion is “symmetry, harmony, or balance.” Perhaps that’s why I get so unsettled when things are out of proportion. I thrive on balance. I don’t like unpredictability. I like to be in an environment where the emotional energy is flowing smoothly, without sharp peaks or valleys. Is that so difficult?

Recently I was in the midst of a typical bantering session with someone whom I love dearly. We’ve been friends for 14 years. He’s one of my favorite people in the world. Apparently I said something that touched a nerve. That wasn’t my intent. It was a subject we’d spoken about in the past. It was, to my mind, a mere sentence fragment amongst the millions we have exchanged over the years. But it caused him to remove himself from Facebook and cut off all contact for the past two weeks.

I e-mailed him and apologized for hitting that nerve and expressed surprise that he could think so poorly of me, but have had no further contact. That makes me profoundly sad.

It should be something we could talk about and easily resolve. It should be a mere blip on our emotional radar. Instead, my friend, who is a wonderfully big guy, seems to have painted himself into a very tiny, prideful, childish corner. Proportion? In essence, he’s taken his marbles and gone home. The longer this plays out, the harder it will be to repair this damage, and that breaks my heart.

I always viewed this person as my rock. The stable one. The go-to guy for advice. Now I am having to see him as unpredictable, and it has left me confused and more than a little tearful.

Maybe if I understood, I’d know what to think and how to act. And to complicate the issue, the very person I would have asked for input on this type of situation is the very one who is no longer speaking to me. I’m baffled.

Maybe proportion takes more work than I realized. Maybe symmetry, harmony, and balance aren’t the default positions I always thought they were. This is a very bewildering concept to try to digest at the age of 50. I’m struggling.

[Image credit: Galleryhip.com]
[Image credit: Galleryhip.com]

Off-Kilter

The alarm rang this morning, and while I would have rather slept in, I did feel unusually rested for a work day. My dogs were looking at me rather strangely, but I chalked that up to their usual desire to be fed NOW. After doing just that, I started in on the rest of my work day routine.

I remember thinking that it was going to be a nice sunny day. I can’t get used to how freakin’ early the sun rises in Seattle at this time of year. It completely confuses my body into thinking that it’s later than… wait a minute. What time is it? WHAT TIME IS IT??? Omigod! I’m LATE!!!

I set the alarm for the time I was supposed to walk out the door rather than the time I was supposed to wake up. What the hell was I thinking? Suddenly, instead of my foggy slow-moving morning customs, I was thrown into overdrive. Leaping over dogs while getting dressed almost in mid-air, I bolted into the bathroom, brushed my teeth, grabbed my lunch from the kitchen and rushed out the door with sheet marks still on my face. I’m sure my dogs are still shaking their heads in disbelief.

Driving that thin line between breaking every law in the book and yet not putting my life at risk, I got to work with barely a minute to spare. Only then did I wipe the sleep from my eyes. Ugh. I hate when I do this.

Yes, I got to work on time. So now everything should proceed as planned. But no. First of all, I feel vaguely nauseous from the adrenaline dump. And my head feels all muzzy and confused. I’m supposed to be sitting in the back yard, enjoying the morning birdsong while waiting for the dogs to pee before closing them in for the day. Instead I’m… where am I? I’m at work. Yeah. That’s where I am.

The rest of the day is going to feel ever so slightly off. Not quite right. Just a little wonky.

I wish I had a reset button.

off balance

[Image credit: theseanamethod.com]

Sympathy vs. Empathy

The other day I witnessed something awful. I was working on the Fremont Bridge here in Seattle. It’s 30 feet off the water. Right next to it is the Aurora Bridge, which is 170 feet off the water. Before they put up the higher railing on the Aurora Bridge, the only bridge in the world more known for suicides was the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Fortunately the higher railing has reduced our statistics dramatically, but some people are extremely determined.

It had been a really good day at work. The end of my shift was fast approaching and I was looking forward to going home. Then I heard the sirens. I looked up, and there, standing on the thin, fragile railing, 170 feet above the canal, was a teenaged boy. He stood there, motionless, as the fire engines and police cars gathered around him. They didn’t get too close. Several officers were trying to talk to him, but he wasn’t acknowledging anyone, as far as I could tell. He just stood there, on the brink of death, gazing off to the horizon.

And I felt like a bug pinned to a display board. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t look away. All I could do is quietly say, “Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it, oh God, please don’t do it.” My heart was pounding. I felt sick. I have never felt so helpless in my entire life.

I’ve been a bridgetender since 2001. This isn’t my first rodeo. But in the past I’ve only experienced the aftermath. I’ve either heard them hit (which is a sound you’ll never forget), or I’ve heard the fire engine race up and them coax the guy down. This time I had a front row seat for the most pivotal moment in someone’s life, and I couldn’t do anything to help.

Then a woman came running up the sidewalk, her arms outstretched. An officer stopped her just short of the boy. He still didn’t move. He stood there for 30 minutes. It felt like an eternity.

Then, thankfully, he decided to climb down. But to do this he had to make a 180 degree turn on that railing and squat down. That was the scariest part for me. I was thinking, “Wouldn’t it suck if he changed his mind and now he accidentally fell?”

Eventually he got down and they were able to get him in the ambulance. They drove away and reopened the bridge to traffic and everything went back to normal. Sort of. But meanwhile I was nauseous from the adrenaline dump. I went home to an empty house and had no one to talk to about it. Oddly I was ravenously hungry, but was so sick I couldn’t eat until the next day, after having had several nightmares.

Post Traumatic Stress. That’s a problem. Because it won’t be the last jumper I witness when I work on this bridge. All my coworkers have seen several. And they say it’s worse when they actually jump, especially when they hit the ground or a building instead of the water. Clearly, I’m going to need some coping skills if I’m going to deal with this on a regular basis.

So I decided to take advantage of my Employee Assistance Program and see a counselor. I had my first appointment yesterday. We talked about suicide and what it means to me personally and what it means in general, and she gave me several things to think about.

She said that some people are in so much emotional pain and feel so out of control that they take the control of the one thing that everyone can potentially control—their death. It’s an awful choice to make, but some people may think it’s the only one they have. Others are under the influence of drugs and are making irrational choices in general and this is just another one of those irrational choices. She also said it was normal for me to feel sympathy for this person’s pain and confusion. That’s a very human reaction.

Then we discussed the difference between sympathy and empathy, because that’s what I clearly have to work on. Here are the definitions:

Sympathy [sim-puh-thee]

noun, plural sympathies.

  1. harmonyoforagreementinfeeling,asbetweenpersonsoronthepartofonepersonwithrespecttoanother.

Empathy [em-puh-thee]

noun

  1. The intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

I have always taken pride in the fact that I’m a fairly empathetic individual. I can put myself into other people’s emotional shoes and act toward them accordingly. This is a skill that not everyone possesses. I get frustrated by insensitive, oblivious people. But it never occurred to me that sometimes empathy is not the best thing to have.

Because, you see, I took that young man’s emotional pain into my body. I mean, I really felt it. And because of that I had to deal with it in the aftermath, kind of like having to expel poison. Not good.

So my homework, probably for the rest of my life, is to learn to not take people’s pain on board. It’s okay to feel sympathy, pity, sadness for that person and what they are going through, but I really need to not take it into my soul. It isn’t mine. It doesn’t belong to me, and I don’t have to take ownership of it. What a concept.

Wish me luck.

IMG_0329

Sunrise, a boat race, and my view of the Aurora Bridge from work.

Don’t You Know Me?

I had the most distressing phone conversation the other day. I try to call my favorite aunt, who is 85 years old and lives in Connecticut, about once every two weeks. Her health is not good. She’s in constant pain, but she has a killer sense of humor and her mind is sharp as a tack. She’s about the same age as my mother would have been if she had survived past her 60’s, so that means she has a special place in my heart for that reason as well.

I was expecting our usual chat. Cracking jokes, complaining about aches and pains, feisty gossip that for some reason she feels she can only share with me. Not this time. Maybe she was tired, maybe I caught her just as her pain medication was kicking in. I hope that was all it was. God, please let that be all it was.

Because the person I talked to did not know me at all. This person had my aunt’s voice and I’m assuming she had my aunt’s body, but it was like my aunt wasn’t there. She kept thinking I was my sister. She asked about a husband that I do not have. I said, “Aunt Betty, you know you’re talking to Barb, right?” She replied, “Oh! Sorry. I’m a little confused. So, have you heard from Barb?” “This is Barb.” “Oh, yeah… I love all the postcards Barb sends me.”

I don’t know which upset me more, the fact that she didn’t know me, or the fact that she wasn’t herself. This was not my hilarious, feisty aunt. This was a meek, confused person who seemed… well… old. It made me sad.

To be honest, I fear getting dementia much more than I fear death. To lose my memories, the only things in life that are uniquely mine, is a terrifying prospect. Losing myself and yet leaving my body behind is the stuff of nightmares.

This situation also reminded me of one of the last conversations I had with my mother. In the very end stages of her cancer she was pretty zonked on pain medication. She’d have good days and bad days. One day she seemed to be having a very good day, and I said as much. She said, “I am! My daughter Barb is meeting me for lunch!” When I hung up the phone, I burst into tears, because she was in Virginia and I was in Florida, so I knew I’d be standing her up. I sort of hoped her confusion was enough so that she wouldn’t remember to be disappointed. It’s hard when someone leaves you before their body does.

So I’ll call my aunt back in two weeks and hope for the best. But I’ll be scared. Whether she knows me or not, I’ll tell her I love her. Because everyone should know they’re loved, even if they don’t know by whom.

adult helping senior in hospital

[Image credit: draggarwal.org]

 

Are you @#%&!^+ KIDDING me???

I was just watching the movie Pretty Woman, and in it, Richard Gere as Edward Lewis says, “It’s just that, uh, very few people surprise me.” Julia Roberts as Vivian Ward replies, “Yeah, well, you’re lucky. Most of ‘em shock the hell outta me.” I’m with Vivian.

It seems that I walk around in this little bubble of existence in which I’ve created these very simple and straightforward rules that I expect everyone to happily live by. But life is never that neat, clean, and orderly. I’m constantly befuddled, bemused, horrified, delighted, confused, and/or disgusted by people. The things that they say and do seem so random and unexpected that it rattles me.

For example, one of my dearest friends is sweet, kind, generous and supportive, and lovely to be around. But every once in a while, twice a year at most, if you accidentally say something that pushes him out of his comfort zone he goes straight for the jugular. The reaction is so harsh and so extreme it tends to rock me back on my heels. It’s as if suddenly I’m in the presence of someone entirely different, a guy I call “Hostile Man.” Once the initial shock wears off, I think to myself, “Oh, it’s you again. I don’t like you. Go away.” And very soon my friend will be back again.

These brief insights into people that pop my safe little bubble of reality tend to stay with me. Here’s a few that spring to mind:

  • Upon telling someone recently that the love of my life had died unexpectedly of natural causes, all alone in a parking lot, leaving me devastated, she said, “Try not to let it bother you.” (She meant well. People don’t always know what to say in these circumstances. But still… really?)
  • I met a 35 year old British woman recently who had never heard of the Beatles. (Talk about living in a bubble.)
  • Rob Ford, the Mayor of Toronto, after being caught smoking crack on film twice, still refuses to leave office. (Oh, where to begin.)
  • The people of Toronto, upon hearing that their crack smoking mayor refuses to leave office, have yet to descend on city hall with pitch forks and torches, tar and feathers, and send the loser packing. (Torontonians are known for being extremely polite, but come on.)
  • When a mother I know was told by her daughter that she was being sexually abused by her stepfather, the mother said, “Oh, you’re making too much of it.” (There are just no words for this.)
  • When my bridge was being painted with lead paint and our building was enclosed within the massive paint tent and we expressed out concerns, my head supervisor said, “Well, if you get lead poisoning, all you have to do is drink milk.” (That must be an annoying realization to everyone who has suffered through Chelation therapy.)
  • When I asked a fundamentalist Christian friend of mine, who also happens to be a lesbian, why she would continue to cling to a religion that considers her an evil freak, she tearfully replied, “I’ve just resigned myself to the fact that I’m going to hell.” She told me this while on her way to church. (How profoundly sad this makes me.)
  • When a friend found me in tears because I’d just dropped my laptop, destroying it, and had no way to replace it, he bought me another one. Just like that. (I will be in awe of this person for the rest of my life.)
  • A coworker who drives a Mercedes convertible asked me about the old Hyundai hatchback I used to drive. I said, “Why on earth would you want to know?” He said, “Oh, I’ve been thinking of getting a second car, one that I wouldn’t mind getting scratched or stolen, to drive around in the less desirable parts of town.” (Such a tactful and pedestrian worldview.)
  • Speaking of cars, one of my teachers in high school, widowed,  bought her first car at age 50, and kept getting stranded because she would forget to fill it with gas. (Poor thing.)
  • When my grandmother, a devout Catholic, lost a baby at childbirth, she sought comfort from her parish priest. He told her that her baby was doomed to spend all eternity in limbo. She never set foot inside a church again. (People seem completely unaware of their ability to profoundly impact the lives of others.)
  • And then there are all the people who, despite the overwhelming evidence of their very own eyes plus the endorsement of 97 percent of all climate experts, refuse to believe that global warming exists. (Speechless.)

You just never know when people are going to blow your mind.

Richard Lindzen climate-change-denier

[Image credit: thegreenmarketoracle.com]

 

Meeting Linda Mae

A few years ago, on a very cold winter night, I got home from work shortly after midnight and as I pulled into the driveway I saw a little old woman standing on the sidewalk in front of my house. She was barefoot, in her nightgown, standing with her feet wide apart, her arms at her sides, and her head tilted. As I got closer, she continued to stare vacantly at me, but she didn’t move and said not a word.

I confess I was a little creeped out. She kind of looked like a zombie. I had no way of knowing if she’d freak out and hurt herself or me. So I gave her a wide berth and went inside and got my boyfriend. We both went back outside and he said, “Ma’am, can I help you?” She looked at him and said, “Nnnnn….” We looked at each other. He said, “It sure is cold out here. Are you cold, ma’am? Why don’t you come on in and get warm, and I’ll fix you a nice cup of tea.”

He took her by the hand and helped her up the steps. We sat her down and wrapped her in blankets. She looked to be in her 90’s. We asked her for her name, and she told us it was Linda Mae. She didn’t know her last name or her address. As my boyfriend fixed her some tea, I called 911.

She began to look frightened, so my boyfriend knelt down beside her. “Miss Linda Mae,” he said, “We just called someone who’s going to come out and make sure you’re okay, and try to help us find out where you live, okay? Everything’s going to be fine. You found a safe place to be. We’ll take care of everything.”

It must have been a slow night for first responders, because the next thing we knew there were two ambulances and a police car out front, and no fewer than 7 very large men came in and surrounded Linda Mae. I could tell she was scared half to death, so I told her all these nice men were here to make sure she was okay. They checked her pulse and blood pressure, among other things, and declared that she was in good health. But now what to do about getting her home? She still didn’t know her last name or address. No one had called in a missing person.

It was about one in the morning by now, and the ambulances left, leaving us with one police officer. He went outside, and we tried to make small talk with Linda Mae, but that’s hard to do with someone who has no past or future. We asked her if she liked the tea and if she was warm enough now, but then topics of conversation kind of dried up.

Finally the officer came back in and said they found her address. He had dispatch do a search for any past records of someone named Linda wandering off, and sure enough it had happened twice before. She lived about 4 blocks away. Another officer went by her house to verify that they were missing someone, and the residents were surprised. They hadn’t even been aware that she was gone. So we bundled her into the police car and said goodbye, knowing she wouldn’t remember us in the morning.

I often think of Miss Linda Mae. I worry about her. I know it must be hard to care for someone with such severe dementia, but given her history of wandering, you’d think they’d have rigged the doors so that a bell would ring or something. Instead they slept peacefully on while she wandered a semi-dangerous neighborhood, shoeless, coatless, late at night in the dead of winter. She could have gotten hypothermia, wandered into traffic or even worse, stumbled upon people who would not have had her best interests at heart. My boyfriend says that it was meant to be that we found her when we did.

But the strangest part about it was realizing that an encounter that touched us so profoundly was completely lost on this woman within hours. It had slipped from her mind like sand through an hour glass. We had no form or substance for her, like a wisps of smoke, quickly disbursed. I can only hope that she is well and that her last days are safe and free of fear.

It also makes me wonder if I’ve ever impacted someone else without realizing it. As is the nature of things like that, I suppose I’ll never know.

dementia

(Image credit: baby-boomer-depot.com)