Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Show "n Tell

What could be worse than a 27-hour return train journey turning into a 40-hour odyssey and then getting lost in Newark Train Station at two o'clock in the morning?  I'll tell you what.  Our glorious week long vacation from our problems in a tropical paradise coming to an end, that's what!

The lid doubles as a step up to the top bunk.
Golden rule: Always close the lid!
Where to start?  First, the train journey.

As you know I ended up having to take a train down the east coast to Miami under orders from Dr Cuteness.  Everybody immediately equates long distance train travel with romance, goodbyes to sweethearts, handkerchiefs waving from the windows, and wires home announcing one's safe arrival (thanks KOB for this vision!).  However any thoughts of romance were quickly dashed when I was confronted with my substitute home for the next 27-hours.  Now don't get me wrong, the sleeping accommodations were perfectly acceptable.  It was just the ablutions setup that I had a problem with. Yes. Right next to my bed.  No division here whatsoever.  I think the dogs have the theory right in this regard.  Never eat or sleep where you....ahem....toilet!  Okay, okay it was still better than the setup in coach.  One toilet for how many passengers?

The trip down went pretty smoothly and I quite enjoyed going to the dining car to take my meals on the plastic Amtrak china, and also reveled in the potluck of table companions one was assigned to.  The two elderly spinster sisters whom I mistook for a pioneering lesbian couple from New Jersey were a delight on the first night.  On the way home I ate breakfast with a heavyset man from Philadelphia who told me how much he enjoyed vacationing in spots that espoused "family values".  I took this as my cue to keep my talk of atheism, pro-choice and women's rights in general to a minimum.

Then the inevitable question.  "So, are you winning your war?" It really was too early in the morning for this and I was honestly confused.  War on what?  My personal war on what is really meant by the phrase "family values?" "You know, your health WAR."  Oh.  Buzzkill alert.  "Because I'm a strong believer in positive attitude and the metaphysical, and I can tell just by looking at your face that you're winning this war.  By the way my friend had IT and he died after only seven months."  Nice.  Oh for the love of all things family values.  Fortunately my sheer physical exhaustion and need to shovel more food into my mouth saved this rather sweet man from having his head bitten off in a bloody attack befitting a scene in the movie, Wolf Creek.   "Excuse me, I need to use the bathroom next to my bed.  Enjoy the rest of your trip sir."

I think I'll summarize my experience of this train journey by divulging some Golden Rules of sleeper car train travel.

Rule #1:  Before attempting to use the toilet next to your bed, check that all curtains are closed and tightly secured.  On BOTH sides.  Don't want to give those folks at West Palm Beach train station a show they didn't pay to see, now do we?

Rule #2:  Unlike Flight Attendants, Sleeping Car Attendants expect to be tipped.  Despite being government employees.  Despite not doing much for you at all the entire 40-hours you were stuck on train.  And despite having the attitude of someone who would do well as an employee of a state-run operation in Cold War-era Siberia.

  • Rule #2A: Sleeping Car Attendants who expected a tip and didn't get one, because passenger was just plain ignorant, should not then belittle passenger to fellow employee, whilst passenger is standing there at two o'clock in the morning.  Such behavior generally results in stern letters being written to management and certainly no tip.

Rule #3:  Don't arrive at Newark Train Station in the dead of night.  But if you do, don't leave that train station without having some compassion for the plight of the homeless and mentally ill in this country.  I literally had to step over bodies in and around that station.  More frightening to me than the people themselves are the policies that seemingly ignore their plight.  Horrifying and disgraceful.

I apologize for the vaccuous segue, but now for the vacation itself, perhaps better described with visual aids:

This is the cafe' across the street where we dined most nights, and were usually serenaded by some kind of live reggae music or cheesy tropical-themed muzak.  

This is where I liked to go and gorge on conch fritters and virgin beverages.  Virgin mojito's don't disappoint by the way.  We were generally joined at some point in our meal by a gimp stork named Hoppy.

This was my "whip" of choice in getting around the whole entire week.  Since I now have a gimp hand, I can't ride an ordinary bicycle and nor could I balance comfortably on a tandem.  The manager at our accommodations rang around to all the local bike places and was able to locate this adult tricycle for me.  I actually received many envious compliments whilst riding it, and this particular night everyone in our party had a go riding around the parking lot, giggling like little children.

This was the beach where Beloved and I spent most of our time reclining on deck chairs and staring out to sea or up at the blue sky through the coconut palms.  Actually this beach is rather famous in that it is the set for many fashion photo shoots and it's also featured as an official screen saver.  That's my MIL in the background.  By the way I sepia-toned this photo to take the glare off my white legs. 

Every night we went to this bar to sit on the porch,  watch the sunset, drink virgin cocktails and muse on why we live in New Jersey.  I like this photo because I don't look like an extra from The Walking Dead.

This photo was taken inside our cottage.  The Florida Keys are under siege from stray cats and our holiday village is no exception.  The cats on this property are well cared for, spayed and available for adoption by guests.  Rosie the cat adopted us for the week as we were staying in HER cottage.  On the last night we relented and let her come inside, where she promptly positioned herself at my head.  We really enjoyed her company and so wanted to bring her home with us, except my naughty little dog hates any species not of his own kind.  Plus I think she's happier roaming free in her tropical paradise so we'll see her next year, same time, same place.

And last but not least, what vacation from cancer would be complete without some reminder?  This one in the liquor aisle at the local supermarket.  Because that's what I really want to do.  Drink pink breast cancer wine from a cat bottle and "support the cause".  Miaow!


In summary, this was the most wonderfully relaxing and lovely time that Beloved and I could have hoped for, and was totally worth the 67-hours in train travel it took to get there. 

We need more weeks like this.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Journey

The day has finally arrived and I'm so excited!  I am going on vacation from cancer!  Literally and figuratively.

We have an annual tradition of spending the week of Thanksgiving in Florida with Beloved's family, and we have a standing reservation at a lovely little holiday village in the Florida Keys.  Given my track record for the year so far, littered with cancelled vacations, and my seemingly perpetual state of medical instability,  I was really worried that this trip was going to go the same way as the others.  Cancelled!

But, no!  I am actually going and my bags are packed.

Okay there was a slight hiccup with the recent collapsed lung episode.  Dr Cuteness, in his adorable way, did declare a no-fly zone for my lung for at least a month.  Eegads, we really had to scramble to figure this out.  Driving was out of the question, as Beloved couldn't extend his vacation time, and quite frankly the thought of spending 24 hours driving down I-95 is about as appealing as having a surgical intervention for a collapsed lung.  Plus I have serious doubts as to Beloved's ability to pay attention for that long.  So what to do?

Well folks, I'm turning the travel clock back one hundred years or so and will be traversing the east coast all the way to Miami on the train.  For all twenty-six fun filled hours.  Actually I'm rather looking forward to it.  I managed to book the last sleeper compartment on the train so at least a third of the ride will be spent snoozing, and as for the other eighteen hours?

Quite frankly, I don't really care.  As long as it doesn't involve people in white coats, needles, rude bitches decked out in pink breast cancer awareness gear, emergency rooms, scans, medical waiting rooms, insurance forms, consents, chemotherapy, blood tests, port flushes, surgical interventions, or anything else remotely resembling the cancer "journey",  I'm happy as a pig in mud.

Amtrak Sleeping Car

And once I get there, I'm planning on eating a crap load of conch fritters.  Deep fried and delicious particularly when consumed on a warm sunny day with a view of the ocean.

Feelings of bliss and excitement for the first time in a very long time.


I swear I could eat the whole plate!

What's your next vacation? Or staycation? What are you doing for Thanksgiving?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pink Proxy

My little patch of hair is falling out again. Again! Seriously, how many times can a person's hair fall out in the space of a year? I hope you're keeping count, because I've lost track.

This past week has been, shall we say, interesting. It seems fitting that I spent Monday, the last day of Pinktober, at Pinkbank Hospital being investigated for mystery shortness of breath.

I started off in the cardiac unit for an echo cardiograph, but was sent packing when they couldn't find my heart on the scan. Somewhat troubling and almost laughable. The techs parting comment to me was something about implants hiding the heart. Damn those pesky reconstructed breasts!

Then I was shunted off to receive a chest CT scan, where I was greeted like an old friend by the radiology nurse who came to access my port, so that I could be shot up with radioactive dye. It's also troubling when everyone in the hospital seems to know you. Obviously I've been spending way too much time there.

Then the news. You have a pneumothorax (partial collapsed lung) and we're taking you down to the emergency room now. Great. Here we go again. Cue the waterworks.

Pull up to emergency room desk. Me in my wheelchair sobbing. Radiology nurse clucking attentively. Emergency room desk receptionist dressed in bright pink breast cancer awareness sweatshirt and pink ribbon lanyard. Rather than taking pity on me, as I would have expected from someone who was so aware of breast cancer, and on the last day of Pinktober no less, the bitch (it's the only fitting descriptor) couldn't have cared less, and rudely waved us on to the next receptionist.

It was at this point that I stopped crying, and almost burst out laughing at the irony of the scene.  Has the color pink simply become a proxy for giving a shit? Wasn't I the point of her stupid sweatshirt? Wasn't I entitled to some special pink treatment during my special pink month? What's the point of having breast cancer if you can't jump the ER queue at least because someone's AWARE of you? Perhaps it was my fault. Maybe my chart wasn't clear enough. More the fool me for forgetting to wear my pink feather boa, bedazzled pink fedora, and Fight Like A Girl t-shirt.  End facetiousness.

Cubicle 18. Hooked up to monitors and oxygen. Waiting, waiting, waiting.

Finally my old friend Dr Cuteness arrives. Mother-in-law almost swooned. The man is seriously handsome. But I managed to focus and listen to what he was saying and after a long discussion we decided against an immediate surgical intervention. Let's see if this thing reflates on it's own. Come back on Wednesday for a chest x-ray, and if it hasn't improved then I'll meet you in the operating room.

Luckily, my date with Dr Cuteness in the operating room hasn't yet come to pass. So far the lung is behaving and I've managed to avoid surgery. I'm not out of the woods yet, but at least headed in the right direction.