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  1. Have You Ever Gone to the Hospital Wearing Your Own Pajamas, and Come Home Wearing Someone Else’s?

    December 7, 2014 by Diane

    Retro hospital

    Have you ever woken up at 2 a.m., your heart beating five million times faster than normal, and no amount of deep breathing, or walking back and forth, or reminding yourself that it’s highly unlikely that the human heart is capable of beating five million times faster than normal, calms it down? So you call 911. You’re alone, after all, with your wild thoughts and even wilder hair, and four paramedics show up. The best-looking four in the universe. One of them casually searches your room for empty pharmaceutical bottles and finds one on the night stand–not because you swallowed the pills, but because you ran out–and nods knowingly to his cohort, who then notices your shelves of medical tomes, the book of symptoms, the…well, you get the picture…and asks if you’re feeling anxious.

    Do you deny the possibility?

    Of course you do. You’ve lived through anxiety episodes before.

    So they load you onto a stretcher and unload you into an ambulance and you’re unwilling to let go of the hand of the tall paramedic who joked about politicians. It’s your last chance to back out, but too late–you’re sealed in, with a stranger, who presses a stethoscope to your naked breast. You’re sealed into that ambulance, your blood pressure climbing, and you’re willing to admit that maybe, just maybe, you are feeling a tad bit nervous. Okay, anxious. You’re feeling anxious.

    Now, when you get to the hospital, is the staff having a party? Is it the one night when someone is retiring, and the cupcakes and the hot coffee are waiting?

    Yes, it’s that very night.

    And you are the one person who is interrupting the festivities.

    A nurse hooks you up to an IV while her sidekick hooks you up to a blood pressure monitor and then they both disappear because those cupcakes are calling. And when the IV bag is empty and your bladder is full and no one heeds your calls, do you rip out the IV and lumber down the hallway to the restroom in a daze (they slipped you two benzos, remember?), and then lumber back, and find the nurses stripping the bed because what was left in the IV has puddled onto the sheets? In the process, does anyone notice that they’ve scooped up your pajama top along with the sheets? Of course not. No one cares about what you were wearing when you arrived. No one gives a rat’s ass until it’s time for you to leave, after two doctors have discussed your situation thoroughly in the hallway, within earshot.

    “She’s having an anxiety episode.”

    “I don’t think so. I think we should run some tests.”

    “It’s anxiety.”

    And you pray for the tests because you have a feeling it isn’t anxiety that’s making your heart race, or those two Ativans would have cured it. In fact, you have the sneaking suspicion that the racing heart is a result of going off a beta blocker too quickly. But instead of a lab technician who shows up, it’s a psychiatrist, who pulls over a stool and asks you how you’re doing. “Have you had anything to eat?” he says. A cupcake would be nice. But he sends for scrambled eggs and milk instead. “You need protein.”

    And six hours later, does a male nurse show up, unhook the IV, roll the blood pressure monitor away, and sit on the edge of the bed to commiserate?

    “I get anxious at times too. Here’s a voucher for a taxi.”

    “Where’s my pajama top?”

    “I have no idea.”

    And does he search in the bio-hazard bin? Without gloves? (As if you’d wear anything that came out of the bio-hazard bin.) And then disappear, to reappear twenty minutes later with a pullover he dug up in the laundry, something that went missing when a previous patient checked into the hospital?

    I ask you: have you ever gone to the hospital wearing your own pajamas, and come home wearing someone else’s?

    Because it happened to me.

    I wonder who’s wearing mine now.


  2. Gratitude: The View Ain’t So Bad From Here

    March 31, 2019 by Diane

    Root canal.

    Just hearing those words makes me jumpy.

    Obama jokingly referred to the bank bailout as being as popular as a root canal, which pissed off those who do it, but illustrated perfectly how the rest of us feel about having it done.

    So when my dentist told me I’d need the dreaded procedure, and gave me a referral to an endodontist, my hand shook as I signed the form.

    Who to believe?

    My previous dentist, the hypochondriac, never mentioned root canals.

    No, it was my new dentist who opened the can of worms. I switched to him, because:

    • My previous dentist no longer accepted my cheap insurance.
    • I had a limited pool of dentists from which to choose.
    • The new guy, Dr. A, got rave reviews on Yelp. Well, two. But there were only two.
    • He seemed friendly when we met, although I could have done away with the handshake.
    • He was downright handsome.

    After his initial examination, Dr. A told me, “The good news: your oral hygiene is excellent. The bad news: your crowns need replacing.”

    My previous dentist never mentioned that scenario, either.

    “Good News, Bad News”

    I soon learned, this handsome fellow liked those phrases. He also relished the word “extreme.”

    In my next visit, while I waited for the Novocain to kick in, he scurried across the hall to examine another patient.

    “The good news: there’s no problem with your teeth. The bad news: your gums are receding. It’s extreme.”

    While I waited for the squishy stuff to harden into a mold of my teeth, he scurried next door to consult with a third patient.

    “The good news: your gums are in great shape. The bad news: you have extreme cavities and you’ll probably need to mortgage your home to pay for the dental work.” (I may have misheard that last part, but the subtext was loud and clear.)

    Off with the Crowns!

    Replacing my first crown went without a glitch, although I shivered in the chair, having a deep fear of dentists. Had my dentist also been a clown, I may have been scarred for life.

    After the procedure, Dr. A said, “You might elect to have a root canal,” then shoved his hand out to shake.

    Why would anyone elect to have a root canal?

    Replacing my second crown, Dr. A ran into a snag. During the procedure, the nerve was exposed. It was “extreme.” He didn’t offer good news, just the bad.

    “There’s a ninety-nine-percent chance you’ll need a root canal,” he said, and shoved out his hand.

    Oh, how I hated this man.

    I wondered if he was getting kickbacks from the endodontist.

    I refused to take the bait. Or his hand.

    A second opinion

    The pain began. Heat, cold, chewing…everything hurt. With dread, I visualized enduring a root canal, of something going horribly wrong, of ending up in the hospital.

    I googled “holistic dentists,” called one, and asked her opinion.

    “If the nerve was mechanically-exposed, ozone treatments MIGHT work,” she said, “but I can’t guarantee it. If it was cavity-exposed, you’ll need an extraction or a root canal.”

    What!? I thought those words didn’t exist in the vocabulary of holistic dentistry.

    The lesson begins

    I was in week five of the LIFE XT program, which I began blogging about here.

    The instructions for the week:

    Add Gratitude. Use sitting down to meals as the cue to Notice-Shift-Rewire the habit of Gratitude.

    Since eating involved heat, cold, and chewing, this proved to be a challenge. Still, I told myself I was grateful to have teeth, and to have a credit card to pay for the fixing of those teeth.

    On Sunday, in desperation, I called my dentist on his cell to find out how the nerve was exposed.

    His brother answered.

    His brother didn’t know.

    Dr. A, he told me, was “extremely” ill and in the hospital.

    “I’m so sorry!” I said, metaphorically backing out the door, grateful for my health.

    Root canal? Or no root canal?

    I didn’t need a neon sign to tell me I’d need to deal with the problem tooth. So I scheduled a visit with endo-guy. I convinced myself that after performing whatever tests endodontists perform, he’d straighten and announce, “You don’t need a root canal!”

    I was willing to take the gamble.

    The day came. I had a plan. If I needed the procedure, I’d visualize lying on the beach. I’d visualize Dave waiting for me in the waiting room. I’d remind myself it would be over in an hour. I’d remind myself of the line I’d recently heard on a tv show: no matter what happens, I’ll get through it. I’d count my breaths: two hundred and twelve of them, the length of time, I was told, a root canal would take. (I ‘d worked out the math in the shower when I should have been practicing Awareness.)

    The test

    I’d read the reviews about endo-guy on Yelp.

    • He had a lousy bedside manner.
    • He’d do the work without telling the patient what he was doing, then disappear.

    I considered those good reviews. I prefer not knowing what a dentist is doing. I don’t want to be that involved. My new dentist is far too chatty. He even offers a mirror so I can watch.

    Endo-guy ran through a list of questions, then performed the “ice” test, applying an ice-cold instrument to one of my regular teeth. As soon as I felt the pain, I raised my hand. He tested the crowned tooth. No pain, then, after several long seconds, I raised my hand. He tested a regular tooth. Up went the hand.

    “It took longer for the crowned tooth,” he said, “which could be a problem. Is the pain gone?”

    “Yes.”

    “If it goes away quickly, that’s good. Let’s try again.”

    He applied the ice to the back of the crown and my hand shot up, followed by the rest of me.

    “That’s a good sign,” he said, and straightened. “You don’t need a root canal.”

    Oh, the joy! The relief! I was ready to dance down the hallway.

    “Is the pain still there?” he said.

    “Well, yes,” I admitted.

    “That’s bad. You need a root canal.”

    The sun went behind the clouds. I stared at him.

    “You can think about it,” he said, “decide later.”

    I didn’t want to think about it. My anxiety would shoot through the roof. I’d lose twenty pounds. I’d end up in the hospital, like my dentist.

    “What do you advise?”

    “A root canal.”

    There it was. I could either go home and worry myself sick, or I could suck it up and get it over.

    I sucked it up.

    After all, I had a plan, right?

    The plan goes awry

    Endo-guy sprang into action. I didn’t have a chance to back out. He shoved a rubber dam in my mouth and went to work. Other than the shot he jammed through the roof of my mouth, nothing hurt. But the whole experience was so overwhelming, my ability to visualize anything vanished. I couldn’t remember my reminders. Counting breaths didn’t occur to me. All I could do was clench my toes so my focus would be on my feet instead of my mouth. He barked orders. “Open wider!” “Resist against me!” At one point I reached up to brush something from my cheek and he barked, “Don’t touch anything! There’s a lot of sharp instruments here!”

    It was all a blur. And then, it was over. Faster than I thought it would be.

    And endo-guy disappeared.

    The view ain’t so bad from here

    I was grateful it was behind me.

    I was grateful I’d had the nerve to get through it.

    If the alternative had been an infection that reached my bone, I could even say I was grateful to have the root canal.

    Gratitude shifted my outlook.

    I had a choice. I could be fearful of the bad or grateful for the good. Anxious of what scared me, or thankful for what gave me strength. Leery of the germs on my dentist’s hand, or comforted he was trying to put me at ease.

    By adopting an attitude of gratitude, I saw all that was right in my life.

    Above the dark clouds, the sun was always shining.


  3. How to Change the Rules in the Game of Anxiety

    August 6, 2017 by Diane

    This week, I played the game of anxiety in the circus of my mind.

    It goes like this:

    Visualize the worst possible outcome for a future event and fixate on it, running the movie loop in your mind until your body reacts with sweaty palms and skipped heartbeats and a rise in blood pressure and a plethora of digestive issues, and then visualize the worst possible explanation for what’s happening with your body.

    This is considered round one.

    You may continue playing rounds, choosing different future events to obsessively worry about. You’ve won the game when you become a nervous wreck.

    I realized there’s a better game.

    It goes like this:

    Visualize the best possible outcome of events and fixate on them, running the loop in your mind until your body reacts with a smile and a bounce to your stride and a wide-open grateful heart, and then fixate on how wonderful you feel.

    You might have noticed it’s the same game.

    It just has different playing pieces.

    Since anxiety is a game manufactured in the mind, it occurred to me: why not set the mind to visualizing happy tidings rather than worrisome thoughts?

    Oh, you can’t fool the mind?

    That’s what I thought. Until I caught on to the fact: my mind isn’t all that bright.

    I’m sorry, but my mind doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and what’s nothing more than whatever squirrelly thought I’m feeding it. Don’t believe me? Here’s a test:

    Imagine eating a lemon. Can you see the juices squirting as you cut into it? Can you smell it as the two halves fall away? Now, suck on one half of the lemon.

    I’ll bet your taste buds are tingling like crazy right now.

    See? Your mind was duped into thinking you were really eating a lemon, and sent that message to your taste buds.

    Granted, it’s not my mind’s fault that it’s none too bright. After all, it’s buried under a lot of grey matter without eyes to see or ears to hear. It relies on me to give it the real McCoy.

    It’s my fault for feeding it a bunch of malarky.

    Dave had surgery this week. I volunteered to be nurse for the day.  Had someone else volunteered me for the task, I would have questioned their sanity. Sending a hypochondriac to be a Florence Nightingale is a sure sign of Squirrels in the Doohickey.

    But I love the guy, so I stepped up to the plate.

    Here’s how:

    I worried endlessly, peppering my thoughts with “what if?” scenarios. What if the surgery goes badly? What if he gets sick from the anesthesia? What if he starts bleeding? What if he gets an infection and I have to take him back to the hospital? What if the surgery goes badly, he gets sick, he gets an infection, his incisions bleed, and I keel over? That was my real concern; that I wouldn’t remain upright through the whole ordeal. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to handle whatever happened, and Dave would end up taking ME to the hospital.

    I worked myself into a proper anxiety attack. I fretted. I ruminated. I lost three pounds.

    I WON THE ANXIETY GAME!

    Then the moment arrived: the changing of the guard.

    Carolyn, who drove him to and from the hospital (definitely not a job for a hypochondriac), brought him home, and I showed up, ready to take over.

    I took a deep breath.

    I cautiously called his name, and stepped inside.

    Dave was peeling off his shirt. He turned toward me.

    I avoided looking at his gauze bandages. I wondered about all that rusty-colored stuff on his skin. Blood? Antiseptic? Please be antiseptic.

    “Warning!” he said.

    I braced myself. This is it.

    “I saved my gallstones,” he said. “They’re in a bottle on the kitchen floor. Wanna see?”

    ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

    I almost cried in relief.

    “Um…maybe another time. How are you?”

    “Good! I don’t feel any worse than I do on Monday mornings getting up for work.”

    I gave him a sponge bath, a shoulder massage, and some energy treatments, opened a package of Saltines for him to eat, and hung around until he got into bed. Then I watched over him from the Jesus Chair.

    I was able to do this because, well, the visualization I had conjured up was much worse than the reality.

    And before arriving, on the verge of panic, I grasped the epiphany that anxiety is a mind game. The true winner games the system.

    Since my mind does an ace job reacting to my fearful images, why not choose images that tap into feel-good chemicals, instead of all that adrenaline and cortisol? I told myself I can just as easily visualize lying on my sky blue blanket on a vast green lawn, a cool breeze wafting by, the faint sound of a bi-plane motoring overhead, someone mowing their lawn in the distance, a father, perhaps—nice, safe, comforting, neighborhood sounds.

    Then, instead of worrying about whether I would be okay, I could focus on making sure he was okay.

    Game over.

    Now, about those gallstones…

    I did take a peak. Then I left Dave with a small bag of cherry pits from my lunch, so he could show them to the guys at the office. “Look how big my stones were!