My Starring Role in the Most Boring Episode of House

Interior, Doctor’s Office. Dr. House sits at his desk, bum leg propped up and cane twirling in one hand. The other holds a sheaf of papers, which he reads with a bored expression.

Well, it wasn’t lupus. Huh. Guess we’ll never know.

House shrugs and tosses aside the sheets of blood work results. Fade to black as episode ends forty-five minutes early. Roll credits.

I had my follow-up with the new doctor today. He had ordered blood work and x-rays to find the underlying cause of my persistent, systemic joint pain. Along with general panels on inflammation, they tested for the rheumatoid arthritis factor. I crammed the lab visits into one of my days off to get everything done. I had to wait a month, though, to get the results.

  Folded HandsDuring that time, I read up on rheumatoid arthritis. As much as I hated the idea, it sounded like everything I had experienced over the past five months or so. So I figured out how I would cope.

I started doing regular stretching routines. I focused on improving my diet. I used apps to track my pain levels and stiffness. I took way more NSAID painkillers than I felt comfortable with or than my stomach could tolerate (on the doctor’s orders).

Today he told me I don’t have positive RA factor*. In fact, I don’t have any signs of inflammation in either my blood work or my x-rays. There is, as far as he’s concerned, nothing wrong with me.

I plan to dramatically cut my hair, in part because braiding it in the morning is getting to be too difficult for my fingers. I get foggy-headed from the pain while working, even with the painkillers. I got my old cane out in the hopes that it will help me walk more easily outside of work.

There’s nothing wrong with me.
Okay. Sure.

I tried to press the doctor for answers. I didn’t have a lot of hope. After waiting almost an hour to see him, he had only been in the room for three minutes before ostentatiously checking his weirdly oversized wristwatch. He hadn’t even finished telling me the results of the tests at that point. Still, I asked.

What else could it be? What do I do now? Why is this happening?

Old HandsHe told me there were no more tests he would run. He had no answers as to what was wrong. Grudgingly, he said it could be wear and tear. (To disability levels within a few months? In someone who only just turned thirty? Doing a job that, while physically demanding, is not exactly digging ditches?)

Ultimately, his answer was that he didn’t know what was going on. It wasn’t the first thing he suspected, so he was done looking.

Like the most boring episode ever of House M.D., he gave up fifteen minutes in with a shrug.

Various PillsSo what did he suggest for managing my new mystery chronic pain condition? More pills, mostly. Keep taking the naproxen that upsets my stomach, then throw in some acetaminophen as well if I need it. See if hot or cold helps. Try tai chi.

(I did, at this point, explain that “staying active” is emphatically not a problem I am currently having. If anything, I’m trying to find ways to be less active. While I do stretches, I don’t bother to plan aerobic activity; I can safely count on work to provide periodic bouts of frantic scurrying to get my heart rate up.)

So that’s the big punchline. I’m out a bunch of money, I don’t have any answers, I’m not any better. Oh, and I have the unenviable task of being disappointed I wasn’t diagnosed with a horrible autoimmune disease. Nothing’s changed.

And I mean that in every way possible. I’m not going to stop what I’ve been doing. No matter what his tests show, I have swollen, stiff, painful joints. I live with chronic pain. It affects my ability to work, to play, to think. I’m going to have to find ways of coping with that. I’m going to do the work of living, even without medical help.

After the episode ends, we the patients have to live with our diagnosis. Or our lack of one.

[*NB: That being said, only 80% of people diagnosed with RA show a positive factor level. It is possible to be diagnosed based on other factors. Conversely, some people with positive factors either have no symptoms or have non-arthritis causes for the elevated levels.

Will this level change in a month or six? I don’t know. I suppose I could go back, if I keep getting worse, and demand another attempt at explanation. After yet another experience of being ignored and disappointed by a doctor, though, I’m not eager.]


Exit SignThe first week of my first year at college, Friday was the only day with any classes. My parents had helped me move in on Wednesday. I had brought a bed-full of stuffed animals and an entire padlocked trunk of books, among other things from which I derived comfort. They bid me tearful goodbyes and wished me luck.

Friday afternoon, I packed a bag and walked to the bus stop; I was headed home for the weekend.

It took two buses to get to the Amtrak station, where a reserved ticket waited for me. I disembarked the first bus and, carefully referencing the route map I had printed out, confidently strode across the road to another stop. Despite never having traveled by bus before, I could do this. I was a mature and worldly college student now. In the molded plastic seat, I sat and buzzed with nervous energy.

The second bus eventually stopped at what was, I learned, the terminus of the line. We parked curbside at some diner, on a street called something cheery like Sunflower. This was not, by any stretch of the imagination, the Amtrak station. The driver, heartless, offered me neither explanation nor reassurance and ordered me off.

Cross the street, I learned, and you will be headed south. North is the only direction for me.

Close to tears, I called my parents, who in turn called me a cab. I counted the minutes on my phone, urging each mile to pass faster. Still, I arrived with plenty of time for my train. (While I was not, at age eighteen, well-equipped to cope with life’s little disasters, I at least knew to schedule for them.) I reached home none the worse for wear. I would take a cab to the station the following weekend. But after that, I learned how to navigate public transportation properly. I eventually switched to Metrolink, became one of the regular Friday commuters, and learned to both love and hate the California train system.

I spent three years going home every weekend. Like a hitchhiking ghost, all I wanted was to go north by any means necessary. Like a ghost, every Monday I would be forced to reset back south at college. In year three, I started driving myself. For the final six months, I commuted from home four days a week, three to six hours depending on traffic.

I spent a lot of time on the road. I lived on the road. I learned the road by dawn light and by darkness. Audiobooks and music were entertainment, but the road was company.

Highway at NightSometimes, all I wanted was to miss my exit and keep driving north forever. Or at least until I found a place where life as I knew it ceased, until I crossed a pale red border drawn to mark where someplace better began. This was my alternative to driving off a cliff, with much the same motivation. I wanted my life to end, to change, to pass over into happiness or peace or just blessed silence at last.

I never, to the best of my or anyone else’s recollection, made any practical attempt to run away from home as a child. Escape nonetheless became an obsessive interest. I didn’t have any practical framework for running away, but I had books. They told me that if I strayed far enough from where I ought to be, I would get lost and then… Then things would be different, which would be enough. Like Alice, I would tumble down the rabbit hole.

So I wandered into the hills, deep amongst the oak trees and sagebrush. I followed animal trails barely visible to the eye. I found roads, strange and faint and never meant for humans. I thought I would find my way to Away. Away had to be better than Here.

I have a history with suicide. Even once the attempts stopped, the impulse continued to crop up periodically. And every time, it has arrived hand in hand with the desperate, irrational desire to pack a bag and run away. Eventually, I learned to recognize them both for what they were:

Because I have never believed that I had enough control to improve my circumstances, I instead believed that if I just run fast and far enough, I could start over. If I’m miserable where I am, the only possible solution is to escape.

Powerlessness. Helplessness. Hopelessness. And yet. Mixed up with a sense that something better is possible, if I become someone new in someplace strange. A gambler’s hope, perhaps. Throw a dart, toss a coin, pick a direction. Fill the tank and drive until it runs empty. Try again in the place you break down.

Right now, I have a bad job, a mystery health problem, and not enough money. Every day when I head to work, when I drive bleary-eyed back home after my shift, I feel a ghost’s hands on the wheel, trying to turn off and away from the known.

What should a person do, though, when they’re also a homebody tied to a patch of land and a family, for whom running away from home isn’t an option, or even particularly desirable? Ignoring the impulse isn’t good enough. I believe in the value of pain, of anger, to point the way. Letting them dictate your actions doesn’t work; that’s the path of tragedy. But they are guides that tell you when something isn’t right. They tell you where the damage is.

So how do I harness this sensation that makes me want to drive into the night and never come back? How do I metaphorically change the road I’m on?

March Wildflowers

I visited the Santa Margarita Wildflower Festival, a small to-do in a semi-local town. I’ve now got several packets of California-native flower seeds, which will be lovely additions to the existing collection on the property. Thus inspired, I took a few photos of what’s blooming at home right now. (Click to embiggen.)

California Poppy

California poppies

Red Stemmed Filaree (an invasive non-native species, actually, but their seeds form spirals, and the green seed pods can be made into a pair of scissors for one’s pointless amusement, so I’m fond of them)

Red Stemmed Filaree

Freesia (okay, it’s not a wildflower, but it was blooming in the backyard when I went to head inside, so it got included)

purple freesia bloom

Bonus points to me for remembering this time: camera settings! They’re a thing that exists! So I futzed about with my f-stops to get more interesting results in my depth of field. I’m so rusty at doing Proper Photography ™, but I got some decent shots this time, yeah?


Butterflies for My Birthday

Yesterday was my 30th birthday. (More on that later, probably.) To celebrate, Mum and I went to the Pismo Beach monarch butterfly grove.

I enjoyed taking a ludicrous number of photos: well over 100 shots. (Not counting the full roll of film Mum took as well; gotta wait to have that developed.) A lot of them turned out mediocre. I don’t have a long lens for my camera, so it just flat couldn’t get close enough at times. Also I, uh, forgot to switch to the action setting when I really could have used it, so I’ve got some lovely blurs of butterflies in flight.

Here are a few of the best shots! (Click to embiggen.)

monarch2016-01 monarch2016-02 monarch2016-03

And one blooper:


Unexpected Uses for Ordinary Things: January Poetry Fishbowl

Over on LiveJournal, ysabetwordsmith is doing her monthly poetry fishbowl. The theme this month is unexpected uses for ordinary things. You can leave prompts and donate to unlock the poems. (There’s still a little time left!) There’s also a freebie up.

Over on the Dreamwidth mirror, I left the following prompt:

If you stay alive long enough, everything ends up being useful at some point. Packrats and people with a knack for anticipating future usefulness, hanging on to seemingly useless objects until the critical moment. I would particularly love to see this in the Frankenstein’s Family verse, but anywhere would be lovely.

Which turned into the poem “Life Is an Improvisation,” so if you feel like tossing a few coins to the bard to help unlock it for everyone, I’ll be extra happy!

For a full explanation of the fishbowl concept, see Ysabet’s post. The short version is indie publishing at its best: readers want stuff, writers make it, money (or linkbacks like this post) support the writer so they post the materials.

Ysabet’s poetry is swell: diverse cast, smart science and magic, wicked sense of humor. Go. Read. Support.