Saturday, November 20, 2010

Life Goes On in the Studio . . .

Or Doing the Work is the Best Medicine.

The platters are coming along. I spent a good three hours in the studio on Wednesday after going to the gym. I finished a prototype platter, the one done as an example for Tina so she can choose the glaze she’d like and if she likes the idea of inlaid porcelain slip or not. It’s now drying slowly before being bisque fired.

Leather hard platter with porcelain slip added.

Leather hard platter with porcelain slip inlay.

While I was working on adding the porcelain slip to the carved portion of the prototype platter, I had a visit from Judith who is doing an article for the first OSC (Oakland Symphony Chorus, of which I am a member since 2006) newsletter, SING! “SINGer Spotlight” is, to quote Judith, “a piece highlighting interesting chorus members, and we thought you would be an appropriate starter for this column.” Really? Me? I have a few intimate friends from way back who might describe me as “interesting” but chorus members? OK, so they must be going alphabetically starting with the sopranos. Well, no, Judith assured me otherwise, although they are starting with the sopranos. Anyway, she came armed with a camera and, hopefully, managed to get a decent photo for the column.

Leather hard platter with porcelain slip inlay on both sides finished.

I finished one of my pinched vessels now ready for bisque firing and decided, with the help from my studio friend, Tyrell, that I was also finished with the larger one. 

Leather hard pinch vessel with wax resist, carved pattern.

Other side of leather hard pinched vessel with carved pattern.

Sometimes you just have to see your work through someone else’s eyes to make these “it’s done” decisions.

Front side of large pinched vessel ready to dry.

Back side of large pinched vessel ready to dry.

And then a piece sitting on the shelf above my drying shelves caught my eye. I’d almost forgotten I had done this porcelain piece with desert blue glaze, which I glazed and fired recently.  It pleases me from every angle. More of these will come, no doubt.

Porcelain pinched vessel with desert blue glaze, carved, torn, coiled.

Another view of porcelain pinched vessel w/desert blue glaze.

Another view of porcelain pinched vessel, carved, torn, coiled.

Close up of carved, torn coiled porcelain pinched vessel.

One more view of porcelain pinched vessel.

All in all, it was a good day in the studio. If laughter is the best medicine, then my studio has got to be the funniest joke ever. 

Things You Hope To Never Hear From Your Health Care Providers . . .

Or If You Can't Say Anything Nice . . .

In the past two months I’ve had my share of appointments with doctors, physical therapists and radiology technicians and all I can say is somewhere along the way medical and training schools have definitely dropped the ball when it comes to what we used to call “bedside manners.”

Here are just a few examples of what, in my humble opinion, definitely could have been left unsaid.

When my physical therapist was studying films of my lower back and asking me about my symptoms and type of pain I was experiencing he said, “Well, considering what you’ve told me about your pain and how it is affecting your daily life and what I see here as the state of your back, you are doing extraordinarily well. I have other patients in wheelchairs with this type of lumbar situation.”

Like I needed to hear this.

Then there was my regular doctor who called me in the evening (you know it’s going to be something you don’t want to hear when they call you later than normal office hours, but anyway . . .) to tell me that the MRI she ordered for my lower back pain showed severe arthritis, nothing we weren’t expecting. But then she said, “It also showed you have some enlarged lymph nodes and so I’m ordering a CT scan to get a better look.”

OK, that wasn’t so alarming, but THEN she said, “Now you should know that I wouldn’t order this unless I thought it was absolutely necessary because CT scans emit a lot of radiation.”

Did I need to know the amount of radiation given off by a CT scan was higher than most radiological tests so there could be something else to worry about?  No. Or the inference that SHE was obviously worried about the enlarged lymph nodes or she wouldn’t be ordering the test?  No, again.

Sigh . . . and believe me, she’s always been the best when it comes to knowing what to say and what not to say. Hers was a mild gaffe comparatively speaking.

Much worse was the ENT (ear nose and throat) surgeon who called me in the early morning (before I was even out of bed so again, I was sure it was something I didn’t want to hear) with results from my lymph node biopsy. He wasn’t the doctor who did the actual surgery (he was out of town) so I guess I should give him a bit of a pass because he really didn’t know my case. But even so, do I really want to pick up the phone and have a doctor start out by saying, “I’m sorry but I have some really bad news”? And in the next breath say, “Are you sitting down?”  Luckily for me I was still in bed at the time, but CRAP! Is that what you want to hear at 8 in the morning, before you’ve even had coffee?

I don’t think so.

And lastly, there was the very chatty radiology technician who was administering the CT scan I had last Friday. Lots of banter back and forth while she got me up on the gurney before sending me through the radiation-zapping machine, and injecting me with an iodine infusion for one last picture. Then she made this conversational faux pas. As I was collecting myself thinking well, at least that’s over, and after she told me I should drink plenty of water to flush the iodine solution out of my overworked kidneys, she said cheerfully, “Well, we’ll be seeing a lot more of you here.”


“Oh yes,” she continued, “You’ll be getting these scans pretty regularly. Oh and drinking all those yummy banana smoothies.” She was referring to the barium liquid they have you drink when they do CT scans of your stomach, intestines and bowels, which gave me a great case of diarrhea the last time I drank it. I was homebound for the rest of the day and evening.

When I balked at the thought of going through this on a regular basis and questioned why, she said, “You have lymphoma, yes? Well, CT scans are really the only way they can follow the progress of the disease.”

Well, didn’t that make my day? Just what I needed to know. The only thing that kept me from fuming about that for the next couple of hours was the horrendous traffic on the way home from the medical facility. Mental road rage took over.

My dear mom used to say this but in a much more genteel way. Here's my version: If you can’t say anything nice, why not keep your bleeping mouth shut?

Friday, November 12, 2010

As Rosanna Rosanna Danna used to say . . .

It's Always Something.

You go in to get an MRI for pain in your lower back, worrying it’s something more serious than arthritis – another disc problem, a fractured vertebrae - and you find out there’s something else, something possibly even more serious than you ever imagined.

“Enlarged lymph nodes in the retroperitoneal area.” That’s what my doctor told me over the phone last night. I shouldn’t worry that this has anything to do with my previous stage one breast cancer. But I need a CT scan, a scan, which in her words “carries a significant amount of radiation.”

My doctor, Dr. S., is very conservative. She hesitates to order tests unless she is absolutely sure they are necessary. I’ve had this lower back pain for almost two years. With my original complaint she smiled and told me this is a product of aging, recommended I take ibuprofen when necessary and sent me to a physical therapist.

Then the disc in the upper thoracic neck area ruptured and I spent a couple of months on morphine and medical marijuana, masking any pain in my lower back as a bonus. Now I am blessedly free of pain from the ruptured disc, and off all the heavy-duty medications. But right on cue, the lower back pain has returned.

At my yearly check up a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned I still have significant lower back pain so my doctor scheduled an MRI to see what’s going on. The result came back – severe arthritis. This wasn’t news as the x-ray I had last year picked that up.

But then, the shocker: Enlarged lymph nodes in the retroperitoneal area. I go in for the CT scan this Sunday.

Rosanna was never more right.

I wrote this over two months ago,  I was thinking about posting it and then just became overwhelmed by what was happening to me or rather by the medical conveyer belt onto which I found myself inextricably thrown.

In the past two months there have been visits to Dr. K., the oncologist, extensive blood work, a lymph node biopsy and in between, blessedly, a trip to Europe, which had been planned for over a year to visit friends and family celebrating my brother-in-law’s 60th birthday.  For those two weeks I was able to move fear out of my mind and focus on the moments of beauty in Vienna, the joyful reconnections in Berlin and in the back of my mind, hold onto the hope that these large lymph nodes were just remnants of a past infection from my days living in Africa.

Or . . .? 

But hopes and wishes rarely make correct diagnoses. This week I learned I have small lymphocytic leukemia and/or chronic lymphocytic lymphoma. The gist is I have lymphoma, cancer of the lymph system. That’s the bad news.

The good news is the pathologist used the word “indolent” – lazy, in no big hurry to do away with me just yet. And for now the only real symptoms I’m experiencing are being unusually tired (who my age isn’t?) and a whole new surge of what I’m calling ‘hot flashes’ – which may or may not be attributed to the node business. But I am, after all, years beyond those hormonal flashes, which we ladies of a certain age all endured to one degree or another. Whatever is causing them, they’re back.

Today I go in for my second CT scan, which will be used to stage my particular cancer. In December, Dr. K. will do a bone marrow biopsy to finish the staging.

In the meantime, I am working on platters in the studio.

Getting the wedged clay ready to roll into slabs.

Slab put on my makeshift 'mold'.

Platter with coiled handles drying into leather hard.

This is, after all, supposed to be about my life as an artist, not just my life as a patient.

But then, life has a way of drifting out of the lane just when you're sure you're driving straight ahead. No matter how firm a grip I thought I had on the steering wheel, this journey has just taken an unexpected turn.

And so the blog morphs into “my life as an artist who is, a once again, a cancer patient.”

Never more true, Rosanna. It's always something.