Saturday, August 23, 2014

Look Around

On a recent afternoon, I was waiting in line at the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, standing behind the canvas rope at the placard on the floor that tells you where to wait to ensure the privacy of other customers ahead of you. I always want to stand directly on those footprints but I never do. In front of me at the counter, being helped by a pharmacy technician, were two Asian men, one in his 30’s and the other maybe a decade older. They wore colorful dress shirts with khaki shorts and carried messenger bags. In this small town, which houses the only airport in the area and is one of the last stops for provisions before Yellowstone National Park,  these gentlemen were obviously tourists.

As the cashier was tallying up their purchases, the younger man called out “Wait, wait!” as the older guy darted away from the register to grab two rather large boxes of condoms. Interesting choice while on vacation, I thought to myself. As the male cashier took the boxes he asked “Two more, huh?”. When he slid them into the partially translucent white paper bag, I could see it already held three such boxes of Trojans. The younger man appeared to be the only one of the two who was speaking English. He listened to his companion briefly and then before the second box was tucked away, he asked “Are these all one size?” The cashier turned the box every which way, closely examining the small print on each side and declared that they were in fact all the same size. That seemed to be acceptable to the older guy.

Once the purchase was complete, the cashier asked the men if they were headed to the larger town a few miles away and if they were driving. They said yes, but they were with a tour group so they had no need for the coupon for gasoline that came with their receipt.

I watched the entire interaction from my spot at the line marker, obviously that distance is not quite enough to provide the privacy it is intending, and I tried to imagine all the possible scenarios for which these two gentlemen from out of town would need approximately 120 condoms. Are they hoping to get extremely lucky on this vacation? Maybe they’re lovers on a rare getaway together? Maybe they don’t have easy access to prophylactics in their country of origin? Or perhaps they are leaders of the tour group simply thinking ahead and trying to provide their fellow group members with protection?

When it was finally my turn to approach the counter for my medication, I gave the cashier a smile but he was as expressionless as a brick wall. Then I realized I shouldn’t have been surprised by his stoicism. I would guess that selling large quantities of condoms to tourists is far from the strangest task his job requires of him. This got me to thinking about my role as a veterinary technician. I’ve always been proud of my ability to remain calm and professional when dealing with emergencies and oddities. I once had a client casually tell me that she examines her own stools each day. I’ve had owners confess to me that their ill pet has recently ingested pot or used condoms or thong underwear, and I’m always able to maintain a straight yet friendly face while I assure them that we will be able to treat their beloved pet properly. Years ago in an exam room, I asked a female client why she had brought her beagle in to be seen and she stated matter of factly “She has a filthy pussy.” I didn’t even pause before I replied, “Alrighty then, let’s see what we can do about that.” It was clear to me that these were simply the only words she had to describe her observations.

Working with the public can be challenging at times. Clients often expect their current problem to take priority over the other things I’m dealing with and that’s not always appropriate. I often have to do a lot of assessing in a short amount of time in order to respond properly. But my work can be incredibly rewarding. There’s no feeling that compares to helping save a family’s pet or providing a grieving owner with solace during euthanasia. My job can be fun, difficult, dirty, heartbreaking and it challenges me physically and emotionally; usually all in the same day. When I took a brief break from working in the veterinary field, I realized there is literally nothing else I would rather do as a job.

I don’t know how that pharmacy clerk feels about his job but I’m guessing there are rewarding parts to helping provide people with their medications as well as frustrating parts. I’ve found that to be true of all the jobs I’ve ever had. Those tourists were fortunate to have someone help them who took the task seriously, even as I observed in disbelief. I guess this all just proves my personal philosophy that everyone is good at something, has a purpose, and we’re all in a certain place at a certain time for a specific reason. What was probably a simple interaction to all parties involved was incredibly interesting to me and gave me a lot to think about.

This is why I enjoy writing non-fiction and why I carry a notebook everywhere I go. There’s always amazing things happening around us, sometimes funny things or examples of kindness or just something spectacular; a week later I pulled up to the same grocery store and saw a man getting arrested for fighting in the parking lot!

It’s a reminder to keep my eyes open all the time, to focus on the moment I’m in, instead of worrying about what I’m doing next. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Does It Matter What You Call It?

I knew I was going to leave roller derby the day I got injured. The moment I was injured, in fact. I recall quite clearly, stopping on the track (which is a no no), holding my hands to what I thought was my broken nose and having a feeling of finality wash over me, a voice that said "All done". I probably could have walked off the track at that exact moment and been satisfied. But that wouldn't be fair to my teammates or to myself. I  put over two years of my life into this sport, literal blood, sweat and tears. I can't just quit, right?  I've spent the last few weeks recovering and thinking about a potential future with derby, but I came to the conclusion that there isn't one for me.

Taken just seconds before the hit that caused my concussion

Friends have asked me how I made the decision but I didn't make a decision as much as it simply became clear to me. This is a time for transition for me. I've gotten a message from The Universe that I need to slow down and re-evaluate my priorities.

But just because the conclusion was clear cut for me didn't mean it was easy to follow through. I went to my life coach for guidance, "I know what I need to do, I just don't know how to go about doing it". I wrote about it, meditated about it and talked about it with my loved ones. I packed away all my gear and derby clothes, just to see what it felt like.

I'm not quitting, I'm retiring. I keep telling myself that, but does it make a difference? I turned to my dictionary for clarification:
          Quit: to stop doing something, to give up, to resign from, to stop trying, to go away from
          Retire: to give up one's work, to remove from a position or office, to go where it is quieter, to retreat from battle

Well, all of those sound accurate to me! Why is there such a negative connotation with quitting? I battled in that sport for two years and now I'm done. Sure there are women who play for a lot longer but I've known many who played for a shorter amount of time. That doesn't make any of us wrong.

I'm four weeks out from my concussion and I'm still not back to my old self. I'm driving and working and (knock on wood) this past weekend was my first one in a month that didn't include me getting injured or terribly ill. I even worked out on the elliptical yesterday for 15 minutes straight! I'm definitely making progress. But my memory sucks and I have a headache at some point every day. Externally I look like I've healed but I still don't feel like myself. I feel slow and foggy which is the opposite of me at my best. It's frustrating and depressing. But when I push myself (like trying to paint the living room or help my sister in law move), I get sick and I backslide three steps.

The words of wisdom from my life coach were: surrender to what is. I like the sound of that-very Zen. But how do I actually do that? I'm still figuring it out. For now it means eliminating as many distractions and obligations as possible and the biggest one was roller derby. I can't commit to calling my mom every Monday or showing up someplace at a specific time. I'm trying to change my thinking from "This isn't me" to "This is me now". I'm trying to read, rest, watch movies and just be who I am right now. Hopefully I won't be this me forever and I think I'll appreciate that I was kind to myself during this phase.

I always have faith that everything will work out. Sometimes it's just tough getting through that middle part. But for now this middle part is all I've got.

Resting on the couch with my dogs

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

I'm Trying!

It has recently occurred to me what a peculiar phrase "Get Well" is. I'd never given it much thought until these past couple of weeks while I've been recovering from a roller derby injury, but when I think about it, it seems more of a command than an endearment.

A couple weekends ago, I whacked my face hard during a game (and then not realizing I had a concussion, I made some poor choices for activities and beverage consumption immediately following the incident) and I'm currently dealing with Post Concussion Syndrome. I've been reading everything I can on the subject of concussions (because that's what I do when I'm upset about something-I read about it-I'm a nerd like that) and while it makes me feel better to know that everything I'm experiencing is to be expected with this type of injury, it's frustrating to know that there's nothing I can do but rest and wait for my brain to heal.

"Rest your brain",  said the doctors and the handouts on Traumatic Brain Injuries. How in the hell do I do that? I wondered. I still haven't figured it out. Okay, no TV or video games or music, no loud noise or bright lights. Minimal stimulation, I get that. But I tried lying alone in a quiet room, and I think my brain rested for about ten seconds, until it started spiraling out of control thinking about what I did to get into this situation and will I ever get better or will I ever play derby again and if I don't then what about this and what about that?  I reached for my book on the nightstand to distract myself from my thoughts. The doctor said I could do anything that didn't aggravate my symptoms and I tentatively checked in with my body after a few minutes of reading to discover that I felt fairly calm so I kept reading. I read four books in a week, much to the dismay of my boyfriend, with whom I have a friendly competition each year to see who reads the most books (See? Nerds). "That was number thirty", I announced smugly one evening as I slapped closed a hard cover novel. "That's not fair", he pouted, but my raised eyebrows must have let him know it was probably a more than fair trade.

"Get better soon" say my teammates and my friends when they post on my Facebook wall and my mom on the cheerful card she mailed me. I know their well wishes are genuine and I truly appreciate knowing I'm being thought of but I just want to scream I CAN'T GET BETTER RIGHT NOW SO STOP SAYING THAT!

What else do I expect them to say? I don't know. There's not much else to say to someone who gave themselves a serious injury playing a contact sport. And it's not like it's their fault I'm frustrated. But there's only so many times I can hear "I hope you're healing up quick" without feeling like I'm somehow doing something wrong. I'm not healing quick and there's nothing I can do about it. All the literature says symptoms can last "weeks to months" and some may never go away completely. That's overwhelming.

For the first ten days, I could barely move. I lived in a constant state of motion sickness. I was physically and mentally slow. I couldn't work or drive. Then last week, at about 14 days in, I started to feel my personality peeking through the fog. I wrote in my journal, I sent some funny Tweets. Oh, what a relief!

All my pets in bed with me on a recent sick day. 

Just when I started to be able to leave the house with minimal side effects, I got food poisoning. That set me back about three steps in my recovery. Talk about frustrating. My mother asked "Well, what did you eat that would have caused that?" insinuating that once again my less than stellar decision making brought about my misfortune.

I do realize that I am fortunate in my situation. My injury could have been much worse. Initially I thought my nose was broken but it wasn't, thank goodness. I am extremely grateful for my family, friends and teammates who have checked in on me, sent flowers, driven me to and from doctors appointments and cooked me meals, among other acts of kindness.

Get Well flowers from my team mates
Outwardly I appear to be in decent shape. I've returned to work, I've started driving short distances and my headache is no longer constant, but I still don't feel like myself and that's the worst part. I worry that I never will, but thankfully I know that this anxiety is also common in concussion patients. The fact that I have the capacity to work on this post is solid proof that I'm returning to myself.

The subject of roller derby hangs over me like a dark cloud. I know that's cliche but it's the best I can do right now! My doctors, my family, my co-workers, they all want to know if I plan return to the sport. The only people who aren't asking me this are my team mates and I think it's because they understand the need for a break and reassessment after an injury. When it comes to big issues, I'm a decisive person. I like to know what's going to happen and when. Am I going to play again or not? Yes or no, make a decision and move on. Right now, that's impossible for me. Roller derby is a part of my identity. There's a part of me that can't imagine my life without it. However, as much as I love playing derby there are other things I love more like reading, writing and my work as a veterinary technician. If I were to injure myself to the point where I couldn't recover to do these other things, well, I can't even think about that.

This series of events has been a clear message to me from The Universe that I need to slow down an bit and take some things off my plate for a while. I need a lot of sleep, I can't multi-task, I can't drink alcohol. Those aren't necessarily bad things. Once my new helmet arrives that I ordered from Amazon, I'll be able to start riding my bike to work again! In the mean time, you'll find me lying down reading a book!