Origin Story

The kitchen, sketched out in its inglorious glory.

Truth be told, this was not my first rodeo. I had emergency surgery twice to complete my pregnancies. Those boys always wanted to do things the hard way. And then, a dozen-plus years later, I had six pins put in my ankle to ensure it didn’t hang at a bad angle after my free fall.

Perhaps the first two didn’t count. Both of those were epidurals. I did have general anesthesia for the orthopedic surgery. I had been knocked out for oral surgery before, but it wasn’t general. The ankle doctor warned me that I would be intubated.

This translated to waking up in a a new place with the worst case of cotton mouth that I have ever experienced. And then they gave me crackers!?! I guess to get my system back in flow. I took a nibble. I had absolutely zero moisture in my mouth so the slightly salty cracker dust sat between my cheek and my gum like a very dry and very heavy sand. I tried to float it away with apple juice, but instead the sakrete expanded and solidified into an immobile brick. I had to work it out with more juice and my pinky finger. And then all I wanted was a toothbrush–except dry mouth and toothpaste was almost worse.

This time, I was going under to get a tattoo (if you want, you can catch up with this part of the story here). I was there, cheerily in the morning. I was cheery because I needed to be. It made the entire process better for the surgical team, and being a frightened mess served no purpose.

The Spouse and I were called into pre-op, which was an eight or nine square feet space delineated by a bed in the center and a surrounding set of curtains that made a metal swoosh sound as they were drawn aside. I stepped into my bay, was given a not-cute outfit and a set of instructions. I placed my street clothes into the clear plastic bags with drawstring tops and snuggled my feet into the surgical socks with gripper bottoms likely required by the risk manager wishing to avoid unnecessary patient falls on the cold slick floors.

I wasn’t walking around, though. I was on my cot with my jacquard hospital blanket tucked under my elbows. I had my surgical gown on, but didn’t need to wear my green mesh hat until later.

Pretty much everyone in the hospital verbally verified my name and birthdate as they spied the data printed on the plastic bracelet around my wrist. The first year resident put in my IV. He totally blew it and got blood all over my bed and uncleverly hid it under my hand. He then had me apply direct pressure to stem the flow until the weary nurse fixed his mess. She did make him clean the floor.

There were additional residents and medical students, nurses and nurse anesthesiologists, techs and transporters, my doctor and his assistant and the anesthesiologist herself. They all name-checked and proofed me.

Everyone was very polite and, more importantly, kind. I teased the youngins and joked with the pros. The Spouse shuffled between the single guest chair and the space just outside the curtains, depending on the staff directions. I liked it when he was closer. I think the staff did, too.

We did our schtick–where we trick everyone into thinking that we had deep affection for each other via our cruel and cutting banter. There really wasn’t reason to be too worried about this procedure, but it was the start of a series of procedures with more worry. But today, we were keeping it light.

It was close to showtime. My gurney was flanked by the transporter, a pair of nurses and the anesthesiologist who stood at my right. She patted her breast pocket.

“This is the good stuff,” she smiled. I didn’t know there was any “good stuff.”

Turns out they give you some pre-juice before wheeling you into the operating room. She explained that the syringes in her pocket didn’t completely knock you out, but relaxed the patient. I would be awake but wouldn’t remember anything.

I was a bit suspicious. “Is this like some kind of truth serum?” Everyone laughed, the nurses, the transporter, the Spouse and me.

“Naw. We won’t quiz you.” She pumped the happy juice into my IV and I woke up two seconds later in the recovery room. Well, it wasn’t two seconds in a literal sense, but that was all I knew.

I had my apple juice and skipped the snack. While I avoided the dry crackers, I did have real moisture in my mouth. After a short stint, I was unhooked from the monitors. I changed back into my civilian clothes. Not long after, I was dropped off at home for an uneventful day, and the Spouse was able to squeeze in a half-day at work.

That evening, when we sat down for dinner, we went through notable moments that day–the funny socks, the charming nurse, the failed resident and the happy juice.

“Hey, did I say anything after I got that shot?”

The Spouse looked at me for a second before he answered. “Why, yes, you did.” The way he said it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up a little.

“I did? What did I say?”

He paused again. “Well, as they were wheeling you away, you pointed your finger at me and said, ‘You will not stop me from redoing the kitchen this time!’ And all the women around your bed [there were only women] looked at me in horror and said that I better get you that new kitchen.”

Whoa and WHAT? I had no idea where that came from. Really and truly, I didn’t. This hadn’t been a major point of discussion or contention. That morning, I was going to have a procedure to mark the tumor in my mouth. I had this cancer shit on my mind, and of all things, I talk about a stupid kitchen remodel?

And, Loyal Reader, three years later, that’s how we got here.

Mine, With a Twist

chocolate and vanilla ice cream twist in a cone. i prefer a dish, tho.

After laying in a tube for 90 minutes listening to the worst, anti-rhythmic EDM while getting my pictures taken, and after a better than average but not quite good and certainly less than awesome overhyped fast-casual lunch, I decided to walk back to the office. And get some ice cream. Not really ice cream, but frozen custard. It’s a form of soft serve, I guess. But creamier.

I was actually pretty full after my eden bounty of flash cooked greens–broccoli and green beans and snow peas and zucchini and edamame and bok choy–with quinoa and a pair of nondescript sauces. Maybe if they gave you only one sauce they would have concentrated on making it more worthwhile. Doubling meh is like multiplying by one. You don’t get less meh. You don’t get more meh. Just meh. At least there was sriracha.

As full of green as I was, a frozen treat was still appealing. And, if I walked the 12 blocks from the hospital, I could both walk past the custard shop and mitigate my calorie lapse. Perhaps not a full win, but dangerously close.

It was super sunny and super breezy. So sunny that it was sizzling on the sunny side of the street and so breezy that it was chilly–like zip up your sweater chill–on the shady side. I criss crossed the street to regulate my temperature.

At first, I thought I was walking on H Street. The city blocks look pretty identical near the World Bank, but I caught myself before going off course. I did have to cross back to the shady side, though, since that’s where the custard store was.

Was is the operative word here. I passed by a dive bar that is mostly in the basement except for the bistro tables they serve under a big awning on the sidewalk. The bar smells better outside, for those of you tallying at home.

Usually, just past the tables, there’s a sandwich board. It’s more like a siren’s song, enticing pedestrians to the call of ice cream. No sign. It wasn’t there. As I approached the storefront, it seemed dark. Because it was. All of the interior counters, machines, sneeze guards and menu signs were gone. Inside there was wood stained medium-brown, a chalk colored linoleum floor and a random piece of plastic tubing on the ground. Lights out.

I felt like this was a little bit right. I really didn’t have much stomach space for ice cream, so it was good.

Although, it was sad. Sad that the store closed. The custard was really good. In fact, it may have saved a life–that day that a bunch of the most stupid people who had screwed up in the most avoidable fashion and blew my deadline without a recovery plan? Yeah. That day I just pushed my chair back to avoid cursing them blue-black and stomped to the ice cream store and cooled down. Inside and out. Everybody survived. Although the stupids were terrified of me from that day forward. That worked, too. All I had to say was, “ice cream,” and I owned them all.

I powered on, past the empty treat spot. I saw the food trucks lining the square and craned my neck on the off chance there was an ice cream truck. Nope. Just the standard rolled in a tortilla or in a like-a-tortilla fare. I thought I had given up on my sweet urge, but I guess I was wrong.

As I stepped into the street to cross the next block, I remembered the by-the-pound frozen yogurt store. This was actually what I wanted–just a little bit of desert. It’s self-serve soft-serve. I could totally regulate. It was only a few steps further. I walked in.

The store should be a mess, what with all the shitty tourists coming back from the White House pouring and heaping and spilling with their distractions that created inabilities to steady their bowls underneath the spouts, but the staff kept it fastidiously clean. So impressive.

As I walked in and scouted for a container to fill, a six foot four inch patron with steel toed boots wearing a kevlar vest and carrying an exposed, but holstered, weapon was on his way out. He had more than filled his twenty ounce container. Strawberry juice and slightly melted soft serve were seeping from underneath the clear plastic top clamping down the wreckage of fudge and maple syrup and blueberries and chocolate chunks and flaked coconut topping the cheesecake and mocha cappuccino froze-yo. I asked him if he had enough. He was sheepish. It was supposed to be for two, but he admitted that he was going to eat it all. And say that he didn’t stop to get any.

Emboldened by his display of abundance, I surveyed my choices. Skipping quickly past the sorbets I saw not only frozen yogurt, but a dispenser of custard. Vanilla and raspberry on the far side. There was vanilla and chocolate yogurt that could be twisted on the near side. The fabulous man who was keeping the store scrupulously clean was also sweetly friendly. “Can I help you?” was his earnest question.

“No thank you,” I said as I spied the paper bowl. I picked one off the top and stepped to the chocolate yogurt. I knew what I was doing.

Placing the container underneath the spout I paused with my palm on the handle, getting a quick feel for its heft and resistance. I wanted just a smidgen and a mishandling of the handle would deliver the thud of a huge glop. I drew in a breath and lifted and then almost immediately returned the lever. Perfect. Now to the far side.

My preference is always for a vanilla to chocolate ratio approaching 3:1. The buttery fullness of the vanilla is best when punctuated by the sharper chocolate flavor. And the chocolate is smoothed and delicious-fied by vanilla. I raised the cup very close to the spout, I wanted the custard to concentrate itself on top of the chocolate.

Next I went to the corner with the toppings. Most, frankly, looked disgusting to me. Not because of their presentation–again, kudos to the staff. I looked among the nuts–shaves of almonds, raw walnuts, goopy walnuts. No. No. No. In the back I saw a bottle with chopped salted peanuts. Perfect! I shook out a few. I glanced across the two dozen bins until I saw the smushed Heath bars. I teaspooned a bit along the edge. Done.

My cup was hardly filled. It weighed and costed out at $2.52. That’s way less than a frappuccino. And then I added two drips from the ladle of free hot fudge. Napkins and a spoon and I was back on my way.

I really love peanuts with ice cream. I laced my spoon through the vanilla custard to add a dab of chocolate yogurt with toffee. After two more blocks I realized that the ice cream had exactly no flavor. It was just a conduit for the toppings with no added value. I looked into my bowl with the melted edges of the frozen-yo puddling at the bottom toward my hand. I wiped my lips and placed the napkins on top of the milk product. Three more steps and I found a cement encased trash bin.

So done. Two more blocks and I’m at my building. Done with the hospital, lunch and dessert and ready to settle in for a short workday.

You might think that between the bad music, the average lunch and the taste-free ice cream that it was a disappointing day. But, you’d be wrong.

Between seeing my favorite tech who willed me strength when I had my first MRI, trying a new fun place that inspires my own bowl making and being able to control getting just a little bit of sweet to top off my day, it was far from disappointing.

It doesn’t always have to be a homerun to be a fabulous day. You can win on a base on balls. Like today.

Princess and the Pea

A chapter of a book that begins, "Once upon a time it was..."

Once upon a time there was a princess. She was lost. Or at least she didn’t know where she was. Or maybe she did know, and it was just too much work to figure it out at this juncture.

She found herself just passing from the state of sleep to the state of wake. Is it night or day, she thought. Did I just fall asleep or have I been sleeping for hours? Or even days? Where am I?

Clawing through the remnants of sleeping, her mind hit the bumpers of all of her senses like a metal ball shot from the chute and making its way down the lane. She waited and then hit the flippers to keep the ball in play.

She didn’t hear any bells, but there was the steady drone of machinery and the recurring squawk of a police radio. That radio was loud. Maybe that’s what woke her up.

It was dark, but there was a frame of bright light that must be from a door that was barely ajar. On the other side, in full light was the sound of the woman’s voice–the dispatcher–repeating the number ten. 10-12. 10-22. 10-23, stand-by. There were tall shadows of nothing or maybe something. On her right was a small round light hanging mid-air. Looking more closely the point was in some box on some type of pole. There was a window just behind her, to her left. She could see it at the furthest edge of her view, but she couldn’t see through it. Not that it mattered because it was dark out there, too. She was in a room. It wasn’t big. But even though the light on the other side of the door was bright, it didn’t illuminate her surroundings by much.

She licked her lips. They were dry, as was her mouth. She didn’t think that she brushed her teeth before she fell asleep. Her mouth tasted a little stale–maybe because of the dryness. Maybe, though, it was because she had thrown up. She wanted some water. Was there water?

A waft of staleness caught in her nostrils. That might be her. It wasn’t like work out sweat, but more like it had been a long warm day. In a ring or two outside of her, she could smell some chemical smell. It wasn’t like the astringency of Pine Sol, but it wasn’t far from that. There was less complexity to the caustic bouquet. It was less like northwest hops and more like laundry detergent with whitener. It wasn’t overwhelming, and she wasn’t either.

She did okay moving her head from side to side. She realized that she wasn’t lying down, more like half way between prone and sitting. She tried to sit up for real, but she couldn’t lift her head. Couldn’t lift her head. Why didn’t this concern her?

The door swung inward, and a shadow blocked much of the light. There was a clock above the door. It was 3:20, likely 3:20 a.m. The shadow pushed the door behind her. The shadow was accompanied by a rolling cart that she steered by a long pole. She approached the princess with a smile. Her greeting revealed her West Indian roots. She placed a cuff around the arm of the princess and put a probe under her tongue.

“Got it!” The princess knew she was in the hospital and was woozy from either the residuals of morphine or the peak of the percocet. The morphine did make her vomit. She remembered now. She asked if she was due for the anti-nausea meds. The shadow was named Carla and she said she would check with the nurse. She was the tech and was worried about the snow that was blizzarding down. She might have to work a double shift if the forecast held.

Carla checked the bulbs that hung from the princess’s neck. The bulbs were glued to two incisions to collect some post operative fluids. Carla was having none of the way they were hanging. She emptied them, after measuring the output and making positive clicking noises. She walked behind the bed and opened one and then another and then a third drawer. She searched in the dark and found some safety pins.

Carla walked back to the princess and pinned the bulbs to the princess’s gown. “This way they won’t pull. I didn’t like how they were.” She smiled again and helped the princess to the bathroom.

The princess felt queasy, so she swallowed to keep things down. “Is there a toothbrush?” Carla handed her one. She brushed her teeth and drank some water. After all that activity, she was tired. Or she was sore. Or maybe she was just high.

She shuffled back the seven shuffle-steps to the bed with her own pole-cart in tow. Carla had straightened her sheets. She backed into the bed and swung her legs up, schooched back and instead of leaning into the pillow her head dropped like a rag doll’s. She placed her hand on the back of her head to prop it up. She then used her hand to lower her head on the center of the pillow.

Her mind was clouded, but at least she knew where she was, now. She felt webs criss cross across her brain, behind her eyes and thought that she fell back to sleep. She wasn’t a princess.