Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ten Steps to a Hotter Marriage

1. Nag your spouse about taking blood pressure
2. Refuse to speak to your spouse when he says he will not do it
3. After 36 hours of silence, congratulate yourself when he capitulates and says he will do it.
4. Do a little victory dance when he says he wants to go buy the BP cuff
5. Get the BP cuff home, try it out, actually take his BP
6. When he asks where it should be stored, suggest in the oven with the salad bowls.
7. Bask in his praise when he says that’s a great idea
8. Get up early Monday and make porkchops, which require broiling
9. Fail to remove salad bowls and BP machine from top part of oven
10. Remove smoking, melting BP machine from oven after your realize you have melted it. Serve with a nice Bearnaise sauce.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Help Me Sweet Jesus, Especially if You're a Cardiologist

Date: Dec. 9
Receptionist: World's Lamest Medical Center. How can we not help you?
Me: I need to get an appointment with Dr. Cardiologist. My husband is short of breath, apparently is retaining fluid and is exhibiting classic symptoms of congestive heart failure.
Receptionist: What are his symptoms? Please repeat them so I can ignore you again.
Me: Rapid weight gain. Shortness of breath. Extreme edema.
Receptionist: How far is the patient able to walk without assistance?
Me: He can't walk.
Receptionist: So would that be 10 feet?
Me: He can't walk.
Receptionist: Less than 10 feet?
Me: Can't walk means zero feet. No feet can he walk.
Receptionist: So he is having trouble walking?
Me: Um, yes
Receptionist: Is he having trouble breathing?
Me: His breathing is labored.
Receptionist: But is he having trouble breathing?
Me: Yes, his breathing is labored.
Receptionist: So he's having trouble breathing?
Me: Yes.
Receptionist: After he walks?
Me: He can't walk so no.
Receptionist: So he is not having trouble breathing?
Me: Yes, he is but not after walking.
Receptionist: So he is not having trouble breathing after walking?
Me: No because he can't walk.
Receptionist: So he's breathing fine?
Me: No, he's having trouble breathing while he's stitting still.
Receptionist: But is he short of breath after he walks?
Me: Yes.
Receptionist: How far?
Me: Less than 10 feet.
Receptionist: So he can walk 10 feet.
Me: No.
Receptionist: Let me check the schedule for you.
Receptionist: The earliest available appointment is Feb. 15.
Me: But today is Dec. 9.
Receptionist: Yes. The earliest available appointment is Feb. 15.
Me: But today is Dec. 9.
Receptionist: Yes. The earliest available appointment is Feb. 15.
Me: Anything earlier? It's kind of an emergency.
Receptionist: The earliest available appointment is Feb. 15.
Me: It's an emergency.
Receptionist: Then you should take him to the emergency room.
Me: I don't want to go to the emergency room and sit for 37 hours.
Receptionist: Then you are refusing my advice?
Me: Well, I just don't think the ER is the right place for him.
Receptionist: Then you are refusing my advice?
Me: Um, well, yes, I guess I am.
Receptionist: Well, then, I am required by law to tell you that in refusing my advice you may be putting the patient's life in danger and that this could result in harm or death to the patient. Do you understand that?
Me: No.
Receptionist: What part of that don't you understand?
Me: The part where it's my fault.
Receptionist: Refusing my advcie may be putting the patient's life in danger and could result in harm or death. Do you understand that?
Me: I understand that he needs to be seen by a cardiologist and that one is not available until Feb. 15, so I'm not sure that refusing your advice actually does that.
Receptionist: Refusing my advice may be putting the patient's life in danger and could result in harm or death. Do you understand that?
Me: Yes, I do.
Receptionist: Is there anything else we can help you with?
Me: Please, no.
Receptionist: Is that a yes?
Me: No.
Receptionist: So that's a no?
Me: Yes, thank you.
Receptionist: So that's a yes?
Me: No, that's a no.
Receptionist: Thank you for calling the World's Lamest Medical Center. Have a nice day.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tre(s) jolie: Can you spell Ethic$$$?

“Sir, just let me take your vitals.”

The nurse—we’ll call her Priscilla—fiddled with the computer as she strapped the blood pressure cuff to Carl’s arm. She reset the computer once, twice, a third time, mumbling under her breath about how the unit wasn’t working right. Nobody else had difficulty with it in the 10 days he’d been in that room, so I instantly suspected that Prissy might be a problem. Just my wonderful grasp of the obvious kicking in again.

P woman finally got the BP and his oxygenation but forgot about his temperature. Perhaps it wasn’t a problem, even if he was being treated with large doses of antibiotics for pneumonia.

I felt slightly uneasy when I left for the night, but I felt slightly uneasy every night when I left the hospital. There was always something that seemed to go awry: blood sugars that dropped, inexplicably, into the 30s in the middle of the night (maybe they should have held off on the insulin?), breakfast trays that arrived with foods high in potassium (his potassium was so high after surgery he was moved into ICU because they feared a heart attack), test results that had been lost in the system for seven months and indicated a serious problem.

When I left, Prissy gave me her best condicloying smile (my word for condescending and cloying) because now she had the customer, er, patient to herself.

When I returned the next morning, Carl handed me an envelope on which a website had been scrawled.

It seems that in administering his medications, Prissy remarked to him about how many he took. He said he, indeed, took several meds but that he, indeed, had several medical conditions for which they were warranted.

She smiled brightly and told him if only he would try Tre, he probably wouldn’t need all those medications.

Tre, she told him, was a “biotactive nutritional essence” from GNLD. “It’s not just pomegranate juice,” she told him. It has lots of anti-oxidants and, of course, all GNLD products are “based in
nature, backed by science.”

Carl, who plays a lot of poker and has an excellent sucker detector, asked where one might get such a product.

What luck. It turned out Prissy was a GNLD distributor.

Surely, he would like some Tre, only $54.95 a bottle. He could afford it, she was certain, because he lived in those million dollar homes in the hills. (He doesn’t; he lives in a two-bedroom bungalow that could double as a bomb shelter, which I know to be true since I live here too.) So she wrote down her website.

Carl didn’t buy any Tre. And I don’t know if Prissy made her goals or got the $3,000 bonus or won that fabulous vacation to an exotic locale.

But I do know that, having seen the health care system up close, first with my parents and now with him, that I have run into a few scoundrels, including the nurse practitioner who cared for my mom and whose licensed was finally yanked for falsifying records.

I thought that was outrageous. But that was before I met Prissy.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

This blog unintentionally left blank

The last two months have been taken up with caring for Carl, who has been in and out of the hospital three times.

It sounds ridiculous to say my time has been limited; I have 168 hours in a week just like anyone else. But we have spent hours and sometimes days waiting for care, a hurry-up-and-wait hamster wheel that left our heads spinning. Our time is their time and their time is whatever time they choose it to be. Here’s a little look by the numbers:
Number of hours in emergency waiting for a bed (the first time) after admission decision
Number of hours in emergency waiting for a bed (the second time) after admission decision
Number of days waiting for an MRI while he was in the hospital
Number of days waiting to reschedule same MRI because they could find no record of doctor’s orders to medicate the patient
Number of minutes late they were in taking him for his second MRI appointment
Nmmber of minutes the MRI actually took
Number of minutes until he was back in his room
Number of times the car had to be valet parked because there was not enough parking
Number of times the valet went home without giving me back my keys (this happened to be the night of the MRI when he wasn't returned to his room until 12:15 a.m.
Number of times I broke into the valet stand and took my keys
Number of minutes wandering the parking garage looking for my car after I stole my own keys back
Time in the a.m. I got home after wandering around looking for my car
Number of items on his breakfast tray the first three mornings of his separate hospitalizations
Number of items on his breakfast tray the first three mornings of his separate hospitalizations that are banned from his diet by dietitians who had been working with us before the hospitalizations
(white-flour bagel, juice, eggs, cream cheese, milk, banana)
Number of times I complained about this
Effect it had
No total available
Number of times I wondered if health care reform could fix a system so broken that he emerged not as the Empowered Patient but as the Embattled Patient.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Oh, Lakers: I Love the Night Life

Five minutes remain in the seventh game of the Lakers-Celtics matchup, and I do the only logical thing I can: I snap the leash on Blue's collar and leave the house. The Lakers are down by 4 points.

"Honey, don't you want to watch the rest of the game?" Carl asks, mostly out of politeness. He's so engrossed in the game he wouldn't know if Godzilla were sitting across from him.

I don't want to watch. I don't need to. I can know exactly what's going on and still walk the dog just by listening to the air. In our weird, scruffy neighborhood, some Middle Easterners, some Latinos, some Asians, some gay, some straight, at least one cancer survivor and another person who talks to himself about the shortcomings of the rest of the neighbrhood, everybody is glued to the TV. None of us makes enough to be at Staples Center, but what we lack in income, we make up for in decibels.

"Defense! Defense! DEEEEFENSE" a little boy's voice screams as we turn onto Green Street.

He's so intense I'm sure he's shredded his tonsils, which, I am equally certain, soon will be squirting out his nose.

There's a low rumble of discontent. "Oh COME ON!" a man yells in accented English. "What are you DO-ing?"

Screwing up, apparently.

By the time I turn on to Oak Ridge five minutes later, the timbre has changed. One house on the north side of the street--a modest ranch--is practically rocking off its foundation. Young women's high-pitched shrieks blend with masculine woo-hoos which sets off a round of basso profundo barking from what has to be a Shetland pony-sized dog down the street.

I can tell the Lakers are winning as I turn onto Reynolds. Lots of clapping and hooting.

A cop car is parked at the corner, but I don't see the cop. I wonder if it's pre-emptive; earlier in the day, a friend, an LAPD detective, is on his way to Staples Center to deal with the "knuckleheads" (his word) who will be celebrating later.

We are about a block from home when I hear the first two firecrackers. At least, that's what I am pretending they are. And then more popping. It reminds me of the first New Year's Eve I spent in California: I cowered under a bean bag chair as my neighbors fired their weapons in the air.

We scurry for home, knowing that what goes up will come down. I just hope it's not in my head.

As I open the door, my cell phone twangs with a news alert: The Lakers have won their 16th NBA title.

I knew that.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Breaking stuff is hard to do: a lesson in letting go

I was annoyed when Ann broke my ceramic pie plate, none too pleased when she shattered my clay pot from Africa. I was really huffy when she broke the delicate Nativity scene and livid when she broke the handle on my Three Little Kittens coffee cup.

None of the first three items could be repaired, but the coffee cup was a clean break so I used a Superglue-like bonding agent to knit the handle back to the mug. I let it cure for a week. It felt solid.

It lasted approximately four sips and came off in my hand, drenching me, the table, the upholstered chair and my laptop with hot coffee.

And finally, I got the message: It was time to let go.

Ann was my friend for nearly 30 years. We started as work colleagues; I was her editor and she was a reporter, and it was all laughable because she was 12 years my senior and I was a newbie. A girl couldn’t have had a kinder or better mentor. And, as time went by, a kinder of better friend.

In the important matters of life, we had nothing in common. She had a wonderful husband and two darling boys. I had a few rotten-ass boyfriends and two cats. She was as gentle as a spring rain and had an easy laugh. I was earthier and practically brayed with hysteria at my own jokes.

Who knows why people become friends? I know only that we did. It was one of those rare-for-me instances when I knew how blessed I was in real time.

When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, Ann appeared, unbidden, at my doorstep and comforted me. When Ann was diagnosed with cancer, I appeared at her doorstep, also unbidden, and, I hope, comforted her. I had planned to be somewhere else, but there was nowhere else I wanted to be more. I wanted to show her my engagement ring from Carl, whom she and husband Lyle had met and of whom they approved. When we said goodbye, she promised me she would call me on my wedding day, seven months hence.

It was the only promise she ever broke.

For the next six months, we talked occasionally, and I wrote letters. I sent her a teddy bear she had once sent me “to hug when other huggees are absent” and told her he was a stand-in until I could get there again and spend a week taking her to chemo, which was formulated to thwart the very aggressive cancer.

Then her son called to tell me that her system had shut down unexpectedly. The chemo was too harsh for such a gentle soul. I wept until I was exhausted, gathered myself, got on a plane and went to the memorial service. I comforted friends and hugged family and never shed a tear. I would celebrate her life, dammit, dammit, dammit.

When I got home, things began to break. That ceramic pie plate? She gave that to me. I found it shattered on the wood floor. The clay pot? Also from her. It fell over while I was dusting. Smashed. The Nativity scene? A Christmas gift from Ann some years ago. It fell out of a box of Christmas decorations and hit the concrete floor in my storage unit. Nothing else broke but that.

I had just mentioned the coffee mug to Carl a few days earlier and told him she had bought it for me for my birthday almost 20 years ago. Not more than a week later, my kitten jumped on the dining room table but didn’t quite make it, pulling the place mat and the cup to the floor, where the handle snapped off.

I glued it on. It came off.

I was furious.

But at whom? At the kitten for being… a kitten? At Carl for not catching the cup? At God for being a selfish hog who took my friend home too soon?

Yes, illogically, at all of those things. Being angry was easier than confessing that I sometimes wept secret, bitter tears that ambushed me at odd moments. It was easier than admitting that the things that had shattered were messages that my anger would only break my own heart over and over again. It was easier to be angry than it was to let go.

It was as though Letting Go 101 was a class, and I kept getting an F. I kept taking the makeup test and getting an F. Summer school? F. Remedial Letting Go? Big fat F.

I hope to do better on the next test. Signs suggest the student is improving. After making a purchase the other day at the OC swap meet, a vendor chased me down as I walked up the aisle. "This is for you. I thought you might like this," he said as he handed me, unbidden, a new coffee mug.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Spring, kittens and jeans, the best medicine

Selective seratonin re-uptake inhibitors show amazing results, but they can do only so much.

In fact, in my mom's case, I'd put spring, kittens, new jeans and song up against Lexapro any day.

My mom has always suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder, but now in her late 80s, it is getting worse. The doc prescribes Lexapro, an anti-depressant, and it helps, but as soon as we pass the autumn solstice, as soon as the sun begins slipping away by 5 in the afternoon, she will crawl into that protective shell she has fashioned for herself out of--what?--anger? fear? bitterness? necessity?--and stay there for the darkest days of winter.

The good news is that she crawls back out soon after the spring solstice.

When the roses bloom, so does she. To wit:

--Barnie Louise visited her the other day, eliciting laughter and amazement. "Is there anything as darling as a kitten?" she asked, rhetorically, although I kind of hoped she thought her three daughters were darling when they were babies. But we didn't have whiskers. (Those, of course, came in in our 50s and 60s.)

--A new outfit can put a spring in her step. My sister Vicki, bless her, found the ideal pair of new jeans. (Note to self: If I make it to 89, there is such a thing as elastic-waisted, denim pants that are tiny enough for an octo-sprite but large enough in the right places to cover protective undergarments.) Coupled with a bright yellow shirt, she looked like spring itself. "Sometimes," the octo-sprite said, "you just want to wear some jeans so you feel like a person and not an old lady."

--And even if you're an old lady, you're never too old, apparently, to call your other daughter (thank you for being there, Judi) and explain that, indeed, we had just been singing "Bill Grogan's Goat."

"Why?" she said when Judi questioned her. "Well, you know Cathy."

And I know "Bill Grogan's Goat" so I say, why not a hearty rendition of

Bill Grogan's goat
Was feeling fine,
Ate three red shirts
From off the line.

Bill got a stick,
Gave him a whack,
Then tied him to
The railroad track.

The whistle blew,
The train drew nigh,
Bill Grogan's goat,
Was doomed to die.

He gave a groan,
Of awful pain,
Coughed up the shirts,
Flagged down the train

In the spring, life is a cabaret after all.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Credit cards, personal information and saying goodbye and hello

Shred your credit card statements, conventional wisdom says. I'm going to frame my most recent one. It's a chronicle of sorrow and joy spelled out in one financial statement:
Charge: Angelus Pet Hospital, $425, veterinary services
Charge: Angelus Pet Hospital, $125, services
Charge: Cal Pet Crematory, $130, services
Charge: Ragmeister Ragdolls, $100, deposit

The incomparable P. Beauregard LeMieux (the darker one pictured above, left, with Beatriz), born in San Bernardino in 1993, lost his battle with kidney disease in early March. We knew it was coming; the first set of lab results wasn't good and the next was worse. He was a lionheart to the end, a "cat among cats," as my friend and colleague Susan Spano said.

We had Beau cremated, and we mixed his ashes with his sister's. (I had not known what to do with Bella's ashes for the last four years so they sat on the shelf with the cleaning products. In an odd way, it was the right place for Bella, the most fastidious cat I've ever had.) On St. Patrick's Day, 17 years to the day I brought Bella home, we took their combined remains and sprinkled them under two Ingrid Bergman rose bushes. They are very much like Bella and Beau: One is bigger than the other, but they're both sweet and give me and others much pleasure.

The Ingrid Bergmans were the first ones to bloom this year.

The roses got on with the business of living, so did we. But not well. Beatriz, whom we acquired some time after Bella's death, was clearly depressed. She idolized Beau. And, much to my surprise, Carl, who was not a cat person when we married, said, "We need another cat. For Bea's sake, I mean."

Yes, of course.

Two friends had acquired ragdoll Siamese from a breeder in San Diego and suggested I contact
him. So I decided to make the request as specific as possible because, if it was not to be, that would be the end of that. Did he have a blue point, mitted, girl available on April 3, when we would be in San Diego?

He did.

And that is how Barnie Louise (pictured above, left) came to live with us. She is Prozac in kitten form. She and Bea have bonded, Bea taking over the mentor role; she and Blue, the dog, are buddies. She and Carl have become so close that I'm thinking of filing an alienation of affection suit against her.

And me? Well, I still think I hear the clinking of Beau's collar; I still expect him to jump up on my shoulder when I'm working at the kitchen counter. I miss his nighttime ritual in which he would rub the inside of his lips on my face, marking me as his.

But last night, Barnie curled up around my head, just as Beau used to do, and purred me to sleep. It was the first time I'd slept that soundly in a long, long time.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Jonathan Rauch, the Atlantic, and I'm sorry but by mom makes me crazy

Sometimes, before the world wakes up, I try to catch up on my reading--Newsweek, PC World, the Signals catalog, Sunset's "100 Tips for a Great Garden" and, this morning, the Atlantic.

I almost skipped over Jonathan Rauch's "Letting Go of My Father" because I've read it before, a sort of opposite of a coming-of-age story. The deck to the headline contained the usual catch phrases "utterly unprepared for one of life's near certainties--the decline of a parent" and "crisis" and "silently strugging to cope."

Been there, doing that. Just another writer flapping his/her/my jaws (or fingers) about how impossible it is to take care of an elderly parent. Tell me something I don't know.

He did.

He told me I wasn't crazy for thinking there is no safety net, in fact, no net of any kind that's immediately apparent to the parent of a parent; that my feelings of inadequacy are understandable; that there is help but you have to know where to look; and that society treats the information you need to deal with this issue like a great big secret.

"My professional work all but stopped," he writes in the April issue. "Finding doctors for him and getting him to appointments and coordinating escalating medical needs swallowed entire days."

After one medical crisis, he writes, "I stood there idea what to do, frightened by my incompetence and worse, furious at my father for putting me in this impossible situation. That was the day I realized that he could not cope, and I could not cope and, emotionally, he could take me down with him. And I discovered in myself an awful determination not to let that happen."

In his quest to save his father and his own sanity, he discovered this: "Family caregivers face elevated risks to their physical health, mental health, finances employment and retirement," according to the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving at Georgia Southwestern State University.

His solution, especially to the mental health issue, was to talk, as he calls it, in socially inappropriate settings. "A provocation as simple as 'How are you?' would educe an answer like, 'Bad, I'm at my wits' end coping with my father.' Out would come the whole story."

I blushed because I've done this over and over. At first, I thought this just a manifestation of the compulsive Catholic need to confesss, or, as my cousin Muriel says of our family, "Ask us what time it is and we will tell you how the clock was made." But this is somehow different/


Jamie, a colleague at work, who made the mistake of asking me one day what kind of reaction I'd had to a story I wrote. The conversation made a sharp right turn to my mother. (Thank you, Jamie, for not immediately calling the employee assistance program on me.)

Mark, a new acquaintance who kindly invited me out to lunch. (I salute you, Mark, for letting me tell you, over slippery shrimp, about my trifecta of troubles--my failing cat and mother and my husband, who isn't doing so hot either. )

Lili, the hairdresser whose gentle touch somehow unleashes my litany of woes. (Bless you, Lili, for keeping my head and my hair on straight.)

And to so, so many others (including Dee the drycleaner, who gives me a ticket to talk therapy merely by asking, "How's your mom?").

These people differ from my family and friends, who are great listeners all, but they've come to expect to be on the other side of the confessional.

But these other folks, these unwitting victims of my angst ambush, never signed on for this. Please know, wherever you are, that you've probably saved my health.

And I know you've helped mend my heart.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

St. Gen, we hardly knew ye

It’s just a car.

It’s just a 1998 Buick Century with less than 30,000 miles on it, sitting out in the elements, looking sad because it’s not getting enough use.

It’s just a gold 1998 Buick Century with a battered-in door that told me she probably shouldn’t be driving anymore.

It was just her car with the personalized plates that said “St. Gen,” which told us, tongue in cheek, how she viewed herself.

And now it belongs to Max, one of her great grandsons, who has earned the “great” part of that label. He told me in person and later announced on his Facebook page that he’s lucky to have the family he does or he wouldn’t have the wheels. He probably doesn’t realize how lucky we are to have a 16-year-old boy who understands the meaning of family.

“I gave that car to him, didn’t I?” my mom asks, half as a question because she can’t always remember, half as a validation that she did something good.

“Yes, you did,” I say and I smile to let her know she did, in fact, do something good.

“Well, there was no sense in letting it sit there and deteriorate,” she says. “He can make good use of it.”

Indeed he can. At 16, having your own car, even one that’s 12 years old, even a granny car, even one with a sort of bashed in door, means freedom.

At almost 90, not having a car signals just the opposite.

I wept when I pulled in the parking lot this week. Its absence speaks as loudly as its presence.

So long, St. Gen.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Just a couple of boobs out for a good time

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but who knew it would turn into a giggle fest? Mom, who survived breast cancer 23 years ago, and I both needed a mammogram, so why not Breast Fest 2010?

Maybe the weirdness runs in the family. In his first year of college, my nephew, Michael, and a friend dressed up as breasts and went to a Halloween party as a couple of boobs. My mom and I followed in their footsteps.

First, the all important check in. My mom and I have the same last name; she’s Genevieve, and I’m Catharine and not only do we not look one bit alike (she’s blonde and blue eyed), but she’s also 34 years older than I. Since I’m not a spring chicken, that makes her elderly, a word I use with great caution as my own dotage approaches. But let’s face it, friends: If Woodrow Wilson was president when you were born and Warren G. Harding became president before you could crawl, that doesn’t exactly make you Hannah Montana.

Conversely, if Ike was in office when you were born, your name could not be Genevieve Hamm. But it didn’t seem to occur to check-in chick when she asked me, somewhat conspiratorially, how long it had been since my breast cancer. It had, in fact, been a very bad day, but was it so bad that I really looked like someone whose DOB clearly said 1920?

“Bad news,” I told my mom when I returned to her in the waiting room after straightening out the confusion. “They think you’re 55, and frankly, for 55, you don’t look so hot. “

And then we both started to giggle.

I knew what was coming next. It’s an old joke between us. “Did you tell them to charge me half price?” she said. “I only have one, you know.”

More giggling.

We sobered up a bit in the undressing room. We had one wheelchair, two smocks, two purses, and three breasts that needed attention. We pushed and pulled and wiggled and squirmed. I have seen my mom’s mastectomy scar, but it has been only in the last couple of years. She was ashamed, I think. But now it’s just another reminder that she’s one tough broad. So she let me wrestle her out of her top and into her smock. Again, I knew what was coming: “Do you know my Chinese name?” she said “It’s One Hung Low.”


So we were both dressed in pink smocks that opened toward the front and sitting in the waiting room. And sitting and waiting and waiting, watching some DVD that looked like the Cirque du Soleil acroclowns running and jumping and leaping and twirling. It very much approximated what we had just done in the undressing room, except they had on cooler makeup.

And certainly better costumes. Our little pink numbers were a bit drafty. I was fussing with mine and realized that people were looking at me as if to say, ‘”Just because your mother is having a mammogram doesn’t mean you had to get into costume too, you attention whore.” My face flushed, and I wished for a sign that said, “I'm Having One Too.”

Waiting and more waiting. Only a couple of women had been called in the hour we’d been there, and more were arriving. My mother leaned over and said, “It’s like the roach motel. They check in but they don’t check out.”

More giggling.

Finally, they called us. Actually they called her, so this gave a whole new group of people the chance to think of me as an attention ho.

It is not easy, under the best of circumstances, to do the mammo dance. It’s kind of a cross between the Tennessee Waltz and the lambada, and if you’re 89 and you never followed directions well and now you can’t really follow them at all, well, it's more like doing the Monster Mash.

I stood behind her and held her up while they took both sets of pix. I absorbed her radiation and, then, my own. No big deal. She would have done it for me.
And as I stood there, holding this fragile little old lady, I prayed—that we’d both be fine and that, God willing, we’d get to do this again next year, just a couple of boobs, giggling, giggling, all the way.