Something to Prove

29 Jul

“You cook like you have something to prove”

The sous chef and I were having a glass of wine after a busy Friday night in the small boutique restaurant at which I was an intern.

I surveyed myself, standing there at 24, moon-faced, a bandana covering my bald head, hips aching, covered in chocolate and goat cheese. Unlike my fellow externs, I came into school with a bachelor’s, but wasn’t old enough to have a mid-life career change. I held the same full-time development job throughout school and externship, going to work early so that I could both keep my job at the same level and go the 35+ hours a week at culinary school. It was only 16 months, after all. I could do anything for 16 months.

Saying things like, “I can do x for y period of time” is a very bad habit of mine.

People are surprised that I decided to go to cooking school *after* my Crohn’s Diagnosis. It wasn’t the plan, exactly, to go at all. I had always wanted to go, but my mom insisted I get a four year degree out of high school, and I relented. I did, got married, moved, got a real job. I got sick when I was 18, the summer after my freshman year of college, after a bout of particularly brutal mono. If I did the math, I could pinpoint the date of my last day of normal health. The time, even.

I bounced from health center to ER to doctor in college, each one not finding anything (because they didn’t test) and writing me off as an overscheduled basket case that drank too much. I put my foot down, finally, after I graduated, and a doctor found a marker for celiac disease. She discouraged me from seeing a specialist, so it was another year before I learned that the marker can also be positive with Crohn’s Disease, further tests were done, and the rest is history. That was in November, I started school in January, and a biologic shortly after that.

Signing the loan papers and getting my knife kit was an expensive and self-destructive flip-off to my body electric. You’re going to attack me, immune system? Et tu, digestive system? FINE. I’m doing this anyway. WATCH.

It was an interesting time. I would come into class with bruises from a botched IV and the inevitably tragic and clueless drug addict suggested to me discreetly that I shoot up behind my knee, so you couldn’t see it. Thanks.

The biologic didn’t work for me, and it kept not working for me. Timing, dosage, adding another drug, everything was tried. It’s a miracle drug, but it plain didn’t agree with me. I was symptomatic the whole time, but I powered through. I can do anything for sixteen months. I honestly thought Crohn’s was just an annoying thing I had to deal with. No big deal. To say that work didn’t suffer would be to lie, and to say that my home life didn’t suffer would be a lie, too. But when it came to cooking, when it came to being a student, I rocked the house.

By December, it started to unravel. My long, signature red hair began to fall out in patches and was replaced by a crusting rash, and I had do do creative styling to cover it. I started getting these weird rashes everywhere the sun hit. The Crohn’s symptoms got a little worse. My hips started to ache, my fingers got swollen and achy. No one knew why all of it was happening.

Ah, Dear Reader and Google MD, you’ve probably just diagnosed me with lupus. You would be half right. A rare complication of some biologics is a “drug-induced lupus-like syndrome”, and I hit the jackpot. I went to doctor after baffled doctor. Slightly positive lupus panel, an odd non-lupusy pathological report on a scalp biopsy, but no other evidence. I had an infusion one day, and then two days later my hair came out in handfuls. Everyone connected the dots at that point. It was February again, and I was halfway through my externship.

I switched biologics, was put on steroids and methotrexate to get the arthritis and fake lupus under control, and the Crohn’s flare too, while we’re at it. Frankly, I just wanted my hair back. I cut my hair short some time in January, and just shaved it off entirely when too much fell out to be able to not notice. I lost around 80% of it, and being bald made the dozen or so of weekly cortisone injections into my scalp easier.

If you’re wondering if I quit at that point? No. I still worked full-time, I finished my externship on schedule. By April, my hair was starting to grow back and the arthritis wasn’t so crippling. The other biologic started working and I was able to come off the other heavy duty drugs. I graduated second in my class.

“You cook like you have something to prove”

Yes. I do. I cook, like I do many things, like I am proving the universe wrong. It’s a chronic disease, not a death sentence, and if I go down, it will be fighting like hell. I will live normal, better than normal, and it’s balls to the wall from here on out.

I don’t cook for a living, now. I’m still in development. To paraphrase Anthony Bourdain, cooking is a young man’s gig. In the end, it’s better for my health (and my bank account) to not be professional chef, not full-time, anyway. I may get there one day, but for now, I’m happy working for the greater good and being very impressive at parties. I still win.


This Day in History

16 Jul

Six years ago today, I got married to Dr. (then Mr.) Horrible. We were wee babes. We were very happy, and we still are. Strategically, I also planned the wedding to be on my half-birthday.

Forever and ever, amen.

One year ago today, it was D-day. Five year anniversary. Mr. Horrible’s dissertation was due, and I had risky surgery to fix everything that went wrong after Anna was born. I was utterly non-chalant until in the prep-room, where I clutched a rosary, trying to remember the Hail Mary, and trying to extract life-force itself from it. The anesthesiologist, who looked fresh off a peyote ranch, was the catalyst. The reminder that you should not get sick in July didn’t help, and being introduced to the resident that would be in on the surgery. The beloved surgeon assured me, repeatedly, that she would be watching only. The last thing I remember, loopy on the versed they just dripped in before putting in the epidural, was telling them that the tattoo is intentionally funny.

Today, Crohn’s gets in the way of our anniversary yet again, but under much happier circumstances.


I am not running, but I’m cheering on those that do, and I’m so SO proud of what they do. The new normal works.

Still Life With Claims

1 Jul

The Loneliness of Soup

27 Jun

People talk about the first time they feel like a grown up. Getting married, having a baby, buying a house, bailing yourself out of overdraft fees, indignation at the state of young people, etc.

For me? The moment of adulthood came with the first miserable cold and the realization that if I wanted soup to make me feel better, I was going to have to make it myself.

You can’t get Jewish Penicillin out of a can, you can kind-of-sort-of-not-really get it from a deli, the Kosher New York deli notwithstanding. It’s not the same as the chicken cooking in your pot. The fumes are part of the magic.

It probably goes without saying that I’m the alpha and omega of cooking in this house. Dr Horrible could cook if he wanted, but the litany of questions would not be worth it.

How much water?
How do I cut up this onion?
What knife do I use?
How high do I turn the burner?
Do I add salt?

Bless his heart, or bless mine, because I just shoo his brainy butt out of the kitchen, through actual ignorance or artful manipulation, OUT OUT OUT.

Also? Few things make me more miserable than a cold. Having wound vac dressings changed and the Atkins diet are the only worse things I can think of right now. I can play through almost anything, but the damn rhinovirus knocks me on my ass.

So it was with snuffly, red-nosed misery that I came home and redistributed my chicken spaghetti ingredients to soup form, even on this 463 degree day. I could only perceive the salt and heat levels to be correct, but the family ate it. I guess it worked.

Mostly? Even now as a grown woman, when I’m snuffly sick, I don’t want to power through. I want my mommy.

And if the conclusion doesn’t make sense, it’s because I gave into Lady Nyquil halfway through. I’m so congested, I didn’t even notice it was licorice flavored until a couple minutes later. WHINE.



9 Jun

I love love LOVE my medical team, all 72,000 of them. Dealing with their gatekeepers, however, is sometimes another story.

I am a pain in the ass patient, but I know my stuff, am generally gracious, try to thank staff profusely and I have a high level of patience for procedure. However, I have a very low bullshit tolerance.

Take my GI office. Historically, they’ve been wonderful, but the last few weeks have been rocky. It’s definitely difficult to manage your care from another city, it requires efficiency on both ends.

First both they and the insurance company dropped the ball on a pre-approval and now a necessary test won’t be covered at all. My dr has offered to call the insurance and provider himself, which is awesome.

I lost a paper prescription for a non-controlled symptom reliever, so I called asking it to just be faxed in, and the nurse said she’d take care of it. Yay. I call nurse Lois and leave a detailed voicemail, she gets everything answered, then calls me back. I called yesterday asking if it had been called in since my (flaky) pharmacy couldn’t find it, and also to check to if my local doctor had faxed up the most recent blood work.

A transcript of today’s call:

Me: Hello?
Nurse Jackie: This is nurse Jackie from Mondo Gastroenterology. How can I help you?
Me: ….. You called me?
NJ: Yes, you left a message.
Me: Right?
NJ: What can I help you with?
Me: It was in the message…err…checking to see if the script for FeelHuman had been called in and… to make sure Hades sent up the blood work. I think.
NJ: Well when you leave a message we only get name and phone number.
Me: Interesting, since Lois gets the whole message and addresses everything before calling me back.
NJ: Well she’s on vacation and this is all we ever get.
Me: Ok. Different from the last five years. And last week.
NJ: Who said you could have FeelHuman?
Me: The doctor when he wrote it? I lost the paper copy and Lois said she would call it in.
NJ: Who was going to call it in?
Me: Doctor? Lois? I don’t know how it works.
NJ: I’ll have to talk to the doctor to make sure you’re allowed to have it. What about blood work? You were told to get it done every three months.
Me: That’s very frustrating, as that was last week and I’d like it filled.
NJ: Well Lois is on vacation and I see no record of it. You get blood work every three months.
Me: I am aware, I was making sure Hades faxed the *results*, they don’t always.
NJ: We have them. What else?
Me: I guess Doctor hasn’t seen them, yet? Oh! Doctor was going to call the provider abou-
NJ: Your chart has been on my desk. That’s the preauthorization department!!
Me: Noooo, Lois said he was going to call them for me sin-
NJ: Fine. She’s on vacation.

I wanted to scream at her to READ THE FUCKING MANUAL. But I’m a lady, a lady who needs to be liked by the staff, so I didn’t.

All of this information is in my encyclopedic chart. It’s fun to be condescended, especially when you are a WELL established patient and some n00b is unhelpful. When I say well established, I mean that when I call reception, they recognize my voice. My chart is 3″ thick. I’m one of his youngest patients. I fail cutting-edge therapies in dramatic fashion. I am THE GIRL WHO LIVED.

I wish my doctor emailed. He does call me himself, occasionally, at least.

This is a glimpse of all the bullshit chronically ill patients have to deal with. It’s a full-time gottdamn job.

Tuned Out

7 Jun

I am a lover of television. You will never hear me blithely say at a dinner party over a glass of white wine that “oh, I really don’t watch much television.”

We watch the hell out of television.

What we don’t watch anything of is cable.

A couple years ago, we talked about getting rid of cable as a cost cutting measure, and did we need it anyway? SPOILER ALERT: we didn’t cut it off then. HD is awesome! Football season is coming! Housewives! Adult Swim! DV-fuckin-R!

When we moved last summer, we just didn’t get it hooked up as a trial to see how we’d do. We were terrified. Could we live with rabbit ears and cheap-o DSL?

Well, turns out, yeah, we could. After about a week, cable wasn’t even missed. In such a large metro area, there are actually a wide variety of channels (including way more Spanish and Asian channels than I thought possible) and streaming Netflix through the xbox helped.

What I realized is that it’s just background noise. 95% of my tv watching was wedding shows, mediocre cooking shows, housewives, and movies I either owned or were available via instant stream. It was a matter of switching lame background noise. The other 5% were network shows, which are both free and in HD.

Without the DVR, shows we had only an obligatory relationship with fell off. It turns out that you don’t have to see EVERY SINGLE EPISODE to enjoy a series. If we missed and just had to watch, voila laptop! Football season was even fine.

Staying home as I was, I was entertained by seven hours of the Today show or various talk shows. At night, there are reruns of all the good sitcoms and even Family Guy and South Park. I can watch Joel Osteen try to compulsively blink the eyeballs out of his head almost on demand.

PBS comes in sporadically, so I can only let Petit Four watch a show by the conscious effort of many clicks and two remotes. Too much effort, and another feather on my parenting cap for my laziness. The iPod gets plugged in when I’m doing chores and we dance and sing.

Now when I visit a place where I get to watch cable, I find myself annoyed at what’s available. I have a physical reaction to cable news, and I don’t have the patience for reality dramas.

Most of all, it seems absurd that we were paying upwards of $150 a month for cable and Internet!

Sharing your bed with a toddler

27 May

I seriously don’t understand how people co-sleep.