July 31, 2012

Frankentoe

Georgia hates me.  I'm truly starting to believe this.  Only instead of my house whispering violently at me to "Get Out!" like the Amityville Horror house, it's the entire state of Georgia telling me.  It's now been exactly two years since I moved here, and in that time I have worn a cast for the first time ever, broken two bones (one of them in multiple places), had my toe cut into on 3 different occasions because of improper nail healing, had appendicitis and still can't find a hairdresser with whom I am completely satisfied.  Now I realize that one could argue the appendicitis was just coincidental, as were the breaks--or the result of my now being 47 and clumsy.  Still, it seems that the coincidences are stacking up, and not in my favor.

No doubt everyone is getting tired of hearing about my Frankentoe, and heaven knows I'm getting tired of talking my tarsal tribulations, but I'm gonna just sit here and vent a little more anyway.  Shortly after the most recent procedure with Dr. Knickknacks a month ago (today), I went to visit the girlie in NY.  My instructions were to soak the foot at least once a day in a tub of Epsom salts and betadine, hose it down after soaking with peroxide, then let the toe "air out" for an hour or so before wrapping it back up.  No antibiotics were prescribed, which I thought odd.  But I'm not a doctor, so what do I know?

Because there was nothing to soak my foot in short of cooking pots in the kitchenette, which I didn't think future residents would particularly appreciate, we went in search of a suitable substitute at CVS and found a medium-sized blue tub of the kind one might fill with drinks for a party.  After taking off my bandages back at the hotel, we discovered that my toe was now an attractive lobster red, as though I had sunburned it in the extreme.  It was inflamed and angry-looking, and exceptionally tender to the touch.  As in "breathe on it and I'll scream" tender.  Soaking it was an excruciating enterprise, even in lukewarm water, made worse only by the air hitting it afterwards.  Frankentoe was less problematic when wrapped up in sterile dressings and Polysporin, but I still suffered from sudden twinges of serious pain during the visit, for which I'd have to stop what I was doing or saying at that moment till the pain passed.  It made the visit interesting, though I did my best to downplay it so as not to ruin my limited time with the girlie.

This picture doesn't do the red justice, but you'll get the idea.  Yay, grody toe!!

I arrived back home on Monday, nearly a week after the procedure, after an arduous hobble through Atlanta's enormous airport and the endless parking lot to retrieve my vehicle, which resembled nothing so much as a big metal box of hellfire from sitting for days in the sweltering heat.  I sat down for my daily soak, only to notice that my toe was as red as ever.  Now I realize that having someone whack into one's flesh with a tiny machete is gonna piss off the surrounding flesh, but it still seemed unrealistic that no healing would have yet occurred.  The skin around my flame-red toe was beginning to peel, just like almost every sunburn I've ever had.  I was still getting painful twinges periodically.  It finally occurred to me that if it was like a sunburn, maybe I should try using Aloe Vera on it, which I did--annoyed that I hadn't thought of it sooner.  The aloe did help deaden the pain enough to make it tolerable, fortunately.

I became convinced that Dr. Knickknacks had been overly enthusiastic with the freeze spray and given me frostbite, or at least a significant freezer burn.  Nothing else made sense.  As a result, I renamed Dr. Knick "Frostbite Frank."  (Because I like alliteration.  I'm cool like that.)

By the time the second week was almost over, my toe had finally faded from Torched Redhead to a violently purplish-pink to a moderate fushcia.  At last I could touch it and dress it without gritting my teeth, just in time for my follow up visit to Frostbite Frank (FF).  I dutifully went to FF's office and removed the dressing.  He looked at it, observed that the corner was not yet closed up, then jammed a Q-tip aggessively inside the hole, making me buck a good foot off the table.  He looked at the Q-tip and then proclaimed me free of infection.  Thanks, FF...I appreciate doctors who assault open wounds without first warning me.  I told him my freezer burn theory and he insisted that he'd have had to spray me for an hour with the spray for that to have happened.  But then he would say that.

Instead, FF decided that what I actually had was "contact dermatitis,"  which I seriously doubted.  I've had contact dermatitis--hello, adhesive allergic reactions!--and this didn't look remotely the same.  I've also never had dermatitis PEEL, much less extensively.  FF clarified, saying it meant that I'd had an allergic reaction to the Neosporin I was using.  Except I wasn't using Neosporin, genius...I never do because it always makes my skin burn.  I used Polysporin instead, which has always helped and which has never given me a reaction--never mind the fact that it was only put on the open wound...which was the only part getting better.  Then he tried to tell me that I'd had a reaction to the Betadine I was supposed to soak in and put on the wound when I dressed my toe.  Again, genius, I don't think so...if that were true, then why is the red ONLY on the top of my toe and not covering my entire foot, which also soaked in the Betadine wash?  Logic fail, FF.  FAIL.  His next attempt at stifling me was to suggest that I had not been letting enough "air" get to the toe.  Except I was following YOUR directions, dude.  When he'd finished blowing me off, he re-wrapped the toe and sent me on my way with instructions to continue with the Epsom soak, but to discontinue the antibiotic cream and Betadine and to come back in two more weeks to make sure the hole had closed.

I spent much of the rest of that afternoon stuck in traffic because of an accident on a highway near me, after which I ran a couple of errands, grabbed dinner and then went to my choral rehearsal.  After practice, I went home and refilled my basin to soak my toe.  When I took off the dressing, I discovered that, once again, my toe was bright red.   Once again, it was swollen and excruciating to the touch.  It became clear to me that even on the remote chance I did have contact dermatitis, I'd gotten it from FF's office, presumably from his supposedly sterile dressing.  The fact that Frankentoe experienced a crimson tide directly after two visits to FF could hardly be coincidental.  The excruciating twinges (and by "twinge" I mean "flaming red-hot poker shoved directly under my cuticle") began again and I spent most of the rest of the evening in tears.  In between episodes, I researched dermatitis.  I still wasn't convinced that I had it.  The hubs agreed to go to the store, even though it was late, to get me some non-expired cortisone cream on the off-chance I did have dermatitis, happy to be able to help in some small way.

It's Baaaaaaack!

Much of the third week was spent like the first week after the procedure:  endless foot soaks, angry flesh, and intermittent pain.  By the beginning of the next weekend I was starting to see pus coming out of the corner, so I knew that it was infected again, regardless of what FF had said.  I almost went to see my hero FMD over the weekend, but I didn't want to keep being a whiny pain and decided to give the toe and FF the benefit of the doubt.  By Monday, it was just getting worse, so I called to see if FMD was available.  Naturally, he wasn't--I'd blown my chance.  So I called FF's office instead, only to find out that he was out of town all week.  Great.  His nurse/receptionist agreed after hearing me out to email him, however, and see if he would call in an antibiotic.  Which he eventually did.  I ran over to Walgreens that evening to pick up a Z-Pak.  Um, okaaaaaay.  My immediate reaction was that "FMD wouldn't have given me a Z-pak..."  Z-paks are traditionally used more for respiratory illnesses.  I've had more than a few for bronchitis and/or sinusitis, for which they work brilliantly.  But a poisoned toe?  Yeah, not so much...because my toe doesn't have a sinus infection, doncha know...

Still, I dutifully took the Z-pak, which did exactly nothing for most of the first three days.  When I take it for colds, I see results within 24 hours.  I'm just sayin'.  By the 4th and 5th days, Frankentoe finally seemed to be improving, or at least sucking marginally less.  The second I finished taking the antibiotics, however, Frankentoe got worse and started spewing pus again.  Awesome.

Saturday I called the local urgent care to see if FMD was on duty, which he was.  Before I could talk myself back out of it, I drove over to see him.  I told the receptionist I was willing to wait for him specifically, since he'd already dealt with my toe issues previously.  She didn't answer.  I asked if she'd heard me.  She got a little testy, then I pointed out she hadn't answered, so I didn't know.  "Sorry."  Sure you are.  Eventually I got called back, explained everything to the nurse, and waited for FMD.  Who did not arrive.  I apologized to the perfectly nice doctor who did come in, saying I wanted FMD who was already familiar with the problem.  He was totally cool with it and left to get him.

FMD came in, looked at my toe, listened to my tale of woe, and pretty much immediately said "It looks like a staph infection."  But because he is AWESOME and, you know, actually intelligent, he did not assume he knew everything or that I was an idiot who knew nothing (like certain podiatrists I could name), and decided to do something shocking--he took a CULTURE of the infection to determine exactly what kind it was so it could be properly medicated.  Of course this meant I had to be cut yet again, but for FMD, I'll do just about anything.  I seriously want to have his little doctor babies.  He is the MAN.

FMD whipped out the freeze spray, but concentrated it in a short blast directly to the afflicted corner so he could avoid the the ravaged, three-times peeled already toe top.  He cut into the corner to release any impacted pus and to swab it for a culture.  It was highly uncomfortable and painful in spite of the spray, but I put on my big girl panties and handled it.  He gave me a prescription for Doxycycline (used in the treatment of bacterial infections including chlamydia and syphillis, so I won't have to worry about those little problems for a while) and told me to start taking it immediately and that someone should call me, probably on Monday, with the lab results and let me know if we needed to change medications or not.  Then he sent the nurse back in to hose out my toe with saline and put a fresh, non-staph-laden dressing on it.

This--THIS--made sense to me.  A staph infection.  THAT was logical.  THAT explained all my symptoms.  The prescribed medication also seemed appropriate to the situation.  Why should competent doctoring be so elusive for me down here??  More importantly, why must FMD insist on working at the urgent care instead of becoming my personal physician?  And in spite of it all, he has character.  He refused to comment on FF's ineptitude or anything regarding him, though he did raise his eyebrows sky high when he asked if FF had given me any antibiotics and I said "no."  Eloquent commentary, that.

Within 24 hours of starting the doxycycline, my toe was already starting to do better.  And, as promised, someone from the clinic called me yesterday morning to let me know that I had indeed tested positive for staph and should just finish taking all the doxycycline.  Of course, I was also told to keep my appointment with FF today so he'd "know what was going on."  Yeah, that's not gonna happen.  I called yesterday and had a lovely chat with FF's machine, on which I mumbled lame excuses about why I couldn't keep the appointment and how I would call later to reschedule.  Which I won't.  There's no way in hell I'm going back to that office while I have an open wound (if ever), because I am 99% sure that's where I got the staph infection in the first place.  Staph infection from the staff.  Yeah, not happening.

Today I've had my 6th dose of probably 10-days worth of doxycycline, and my toe, for the first time in a month, is starting to look like an actual toe.  The furious fuschia and malevolent pink have faded to the pale pink of healing new skin and the hole in the corner of my toe where the nail root was removed is already closing up.  My cuticle no longer sits 1/8 of an inch off the nail bed.  I can again bend my toe.  The peeling has mostly stopped, other than leftover dying skin.  All of this happened in just three days.  THREE DAYS.

Yay, FMD!!  I will keep you supplied in snickerdoodles for LIFE!

What should have taken maybe a week to be mostly healed has taken a month, and would likely never have healed because of FF's refusal to take me seriously or, you know, diagnose me correctly.  However, assuming he did his original job correctly and effectively killed the relevant section of damaged nail root so it will stop hanging every time it tries to grow back out, I'll consider this a win.  A dubious win, but a win nonetheless.  And maybe, just maybe, by the end of summer--some 15 months after my toe was first broken--I can finally stop messing about with said toe.  Walking would be nice.  I'd like to be able to walk and wear real shoes again.  I think I've worn real shoes exactly three times in the last 14 months.

It would be nice to talk about something other than what I've damaged lately and why Georgia is trying to reject me like a botched organ transplant.  Sigh.

EDITED TO ADD:

Interestingly, I was just looking at my discharge sheet from FMD last night and discovered that my official diagnosis was for "Paronychia (pare-o-nik-ee-uh)."  So of course I had to look it up on the magic Google last night and, wouldn't you know, it described my symptoms exactly.  And there were pictures that looked just like my toe.  Isn't it funny how one so-called doctor can stare at my foot and be completely oblivious to the severity of an infection, instead offering me load after load of bullshit explanations for the toe's condition while another can merely glance at the same toe and nail the diagnosis even before lab results for the culture come back?  Or that one of my friends, who is an ER nurse, didn't even read this post and was instantly freaking out just because of the first picture that posted with it?  Because it turns out, you see, that when the red extends past the cuticle line, it means that the infection is creeping well into your injured digit, far past any pus-filled abcesses.  Which is, ya know, SERIOUS.

Did I mention I won't be going back to Dr. Effed-Up-My-Toe ever again?  Yeah, that's a no-brainer.

Meanwhile, a week later, the toe is doing much better and mostly looks like a toe again, albeit with an oddly-dented nail (yet another souvenir of Dr. Dumbass' ministrations).  It is still more pink than it probably should be, but then it has 3-4 layers of skin to finish re-growing.  There is a bit of nail apparently growing out of the nail bed, though, and I can only hope that it is a truncated version which will grow smoothly out and that the corner of the root is indeed dead and not destined to hang yet again.  Because if it does, I will be seriously pissed.  I really do NOT want to have to go through this all over again.  Heck, I'm pretty much over the daily salt soaks for over a month...the idea of having someone hack into my poor toe for a 4th time is less than attractive.

Still, for now at least, my toe is healing nicely from its many trials.  Fingers crossed things stay that way.  Even in Georgia it would be awkward to wear flip-flops all winter.  Again.

July 6, 2012

Splish-Splash

So the theme for this week appears to be "water damage," because I can't do anything the easy way.   Wednesday night I was in the middle of packing and completing my list of "Chores To Do Before Traveling," one of which was to get the checkbooks balanced.  And so I did--but not before scooting my checkbook off my desk and directly into the full basin of water in which I had just been soaking my toe as per the podiatrist's instructions. 

For a split-second I didn't think much about it, expecting simply to lean over and pick the checkbook back off the floor.  Then I saw its trajectory.  Imagine a cartoon character leaning over in slow motion and yelling "Noooooooooooooooo!" while trying to arrest the flight of the finances.  Because that was me, at least until my checkbook reached escape velocity and hit the water with a resounding "thwack" like some chubby kid doing a belly flop in the pool at the local Y.  Sigh.

I snatched the checkbook out of the tub as quickly as possible, but not before the water had started seeping into the check register and making the ink muddy on some of the pages.  Nothing like a little salt water to enhance one's reading experience.  On the plus side, I no longer needed to worry about any airborne banking infections since my supply of checks had just been summarily doused in water laced with Betadine. 

Fortunately I was able to dry off enough of the register to make it still legible, though the checks themselves had already started to curl.  I finished--carefully--balancing the checkbooks (at least it was mine that got doused and not the hubby's) and then set the cover, checkpad and register up to dry while I was gone.

Fast forward to today.  Because I'm supposed to soak this toe at least once a day for two weeks, I had to find some sort of basin in which to do so while visiting the girlie, since I didn't feel the overwhelming need to carry the one at home through the airport.  Sadly, my hotel room lacks any functional device short of a trash can (which would probably render any and all antiseptics and sterility entirely moot) and a large cooking pan in the kitchenette.  Somehow I doubt future guests would appreciate cooking in a pan in which my foot had been soaked.  So we hit the nearest CVS and found a plastic container which would work.  The fact that it had handles on it and would most likely be used to ice down beers for a pool party was irrelevant. 

When we got back to my hotel, the girlie sat on the couch to sew and watch TV.  I went into the handicapped bathroom (irony, anyone?) to fill the tub.  Because the bathroom had a handicapped shower, it also came equipped with a handy-dandy sprayer.  I sat the tub on the sink, turned on the water, and started to fill the tub while holding onto the sprayer.  Soon it became evident that the sprayer was content to lie face-down in the tub and stay put, so I left it and went to put on my pajamas.  Big mistake.  While my back was turned, the spray flipped itself over, also in a very comedic, cartoonish way, and started spewing water halfway across the bathroom like one of those fountain shows at the Opryland Hotel.

I rushed back in and grabbed the sprayer, pointing it back down into the tub, then surveyed the damage while the tub finished filling.  Water was dripping down the mirror and onto the cheap hotel tissue box and puddling under half my toiletries.  There was also an impressive spray of water dotting the closet door in the bathroom, and the bra I had hanging on the door handle had one cup darker than the other from the drenching.  I was likewise soggy by the time I'd regained control of the errant super soaker.

A half an hour later everything was cleaned back up and drying out, and my foot was safely brewing in the bin, papers and belongings on the desk carefully pushed back out of potential dunking range.   Let's just hope that the rest of my visit with the girlie goes a bit more smoothly--and drily.

July 5, 2012

Travel Tomfoolery, Installment 1

Today I had the pleasure (and I use that term loosely) of once again joining thousands of other embattled airline travelers attempting to arrive unscathed at our various destinations.   In my case, the destination was New York to visit the girlie, who's been busy at college all summer doing an internship in medical physics (because she's just cool like that).  I'll also  get to join her at another of her SCA events, mostly because she didn't want to share her only weekend off from medievaling (which is next weekend) with me.   Hmph.  (To be fair, though, I did offer to go if she wanted a weekend off.   It's still fun to rag her about it, though...)

I made it to the airport in decent time, in spite of leaving a few minutes later than I'd planned and accidentally missing my usual exit, which necessitated me driving past Stone Mountain instead.   At least the view was okay, assuming one likes giant rock mountains. Once at the airport, I had to drive around a while to find an available parking spot.   This time I was clever enough to note the row in my iPhone so I could find my car after the return flight, since last time I didn't completely remember the number.

I unloaded my bags and started to look around for the shuttle (which I had just passed), but he was already long gone so I had to hoof it to the terminal from the back forty with all my stuff and a bum toe.  Still, I managed to walk at a pretty good clip, even in the blistering heat.   And while I may not have been able to channel my friend G's parking karma, I was able to call up a little baggage line karma instead, passing quickly through the baggage drop behind only a couple of other people.

My first priority after checking my bag was to find the nearest bathroom; after driving 90 minutes to get to the airport and then speed-walking through a 103 degree parking lot, it's a small miracle my bladder didn't explode before I ever reached the door.  And--can I just say--walking with very full bladder?  Not so much fun.  On my way to the facilities, I passed a man near the shoe-shine stands wearing a black suit, medium brown leather wingtips and green socks.  Um, okaaaaaaay...  Days like this make me love people-watching at the airport.  Everyone dresses so creatively and behaves so strangely when they think no one else is looking.  It can be highly entertaining.

I managed to pass through security fairly quickly as well--despite of a brief pause for TSA to quickly grope pat down my knees to ensure that the metal buttons on my capris were not, in fact, tiny land mines or high-tech spy transmission devices--complete with 7 dozen snickerdoodles (which I half-expected to be confiscated as a potential danger to society) for the girlie and her SCA friends.

After security, I stopped at a shop to grab a bottle of water for the flight and then waited for the tram next to an Indian family.   My plan was to nab the bench seat at the end of the tram car so I could rest my beleaguered toe, but the Indian family swooped in before I could limp over and sat 5 people down in short order.  I didn't have any problem with the seats being offered to the older couple of women in the entourage; I would have given up my seat for them anyway because I have good manners (most of the time).   What hacked me off was the 14ish-year-old boy sitting on his rear with other adults standing nearby, including members of his own family, never mind me and my giant Q-tip toe.   I just found it rather rude behavior--so much for youthful chivalry.   The family and I all exited at the first tram stop and headed off to our respective gates.   I reached mine 5-10 minutes before boarding was to begin so I didn't have any time to grab some lunch.   On the plus side, I  succeeded in keeping track of my iPad for a change on this excursion, not once accidentally abandoning it even momentarily in a bathroom stall, on a shop counter, etc.

When it was time to board the plane I walked down the skyway and, as usual, got held up at the plane door as the people in front of me tried to cram multiple carry-ons into overhead compartments.  This would not have been so bad had the skyway platform right next to the plane door not smelled distinctly and strongly of (frequently) used outhouse.  Once in the plane, I headed to my seat in 12D next to a woman already starting to deploy her little neck pillow.   I sat down, buckled up, and settled in.  Barely five minutes later, the woman was starting to complain that she thought she'd had an aisle seat and was feeling "claustrophobic" up next to the "wall."   I rolled my eyes and replied, "Yeah, that's why I always pick an aisle seat, too."   I suppose she was hoping I'd swap her seats (which I didn't), because the next time a flight attendant came by, she started asking if she could move to the aisle seat in front of me if no one else sat there.  The flight attendant must have been having a bad day because she got all snotty and snapped, "Can we just wait till the whole plane is boarded, please?"  The woman next to me retreated into her seat and sulked.

Meanwhile, the red-headed woman in front of her began talking in marital code to her husband, who was sitting a row up on the other side with their two small children.  Just as it was becoming obvious that no one else was going to take the seat next to her, she leaned back and "invited" me to move up beside her so that my seatmate could have an aisle seat as well (and hopefully get her panties out of the bunch they were in).   Because I do try to be nice and/or accommodating whenever possible, I went ahead and moved.  Whatever.   As I was doing so, the redhead leaned over and informed me that the other lady didn't "seem like she was being very nice and I'm much more fun." Um, okay.

 I wasn't in the aisle 2 minutes before the other woman had already scooted into my vacated seat.  I re-stowed my belongings around my new seat and tried to sit down but found the chair significantly tighter than the one I was in.  Nor could I fasten the seatbelt--by rather a lot.  Turns out my new seat had non-movable armrests, all of which also had solid walls (instead of just armrests) with those fold-up tray tables inside, therefore reducing the butt room of each seat by a good 2-3 inches--even though this seat and my previous seat were both considered the new "Economy Comfort" seats.   Oh, I still had more legroom, but that's about it.   And why the seatbelt was suddenly six inches shorter than in the seat behind me, I've no idea.  Needless to say, I found it rather frustrating, never mind uncomfortable.

I stopped the flight attendant on her next pass and quietly told her I needed an extender; she asked to see my ticket (which was inconveniently crammed in my cookie bag in the overhead compartment) so she could "see what I can do."   Now to me, this implied I was going to get bumped to first class for being so awesome and patient and for voluntarily moving to help accommodate whiny women who clearly can't read a plane diagram online when ordering tickets.  So for a split second, I was excited by the prospect.  Sadly, it didn't last long.   The redhead's husband reached over and handed me an extender he'd conjured up from God knows where because he saw I was "having some difficulties."  Well, yeah, dude--you would too if someone had whacked off an additional 6 inches of seat belt.  But it was kind of him just the same.  Shortly after I'd gotten myself buckled in between my sardine-can armrests with my two unwieldy seat clasps, the flight attendant came by and slipped me another extender.  So much for getting to move to first class.

Once established in my new seat, I settled in with a magazine in hand and my iPad at the ready to await the electronic ban being lifted on Flight Ginger.   Seriously--I saw no less than 5 redheads on the flight, not counting myself.  When I pointed this out to my new seatmate, she commented that she was "not natural."   I'm hoping she meant her hair color. Still, "natural" or not, she had red hair.   She introduced herself as April and introduced her husband across the aisle as Keith by yelling across my seat at him to tell me hi.   April then informed me that this was the first flight for all of them, and that she was nervous and was annoyed that her husband was being so calm.  Great.   An airplane virgin.  Because I needed to spend the next two hours next to someone who was going to be trying to climb out of the plane over me or screaming or whatever.

April was clearly nervous, though mercifully not manic, as we prepared to hit the tarmac.   She decided she needed some vodka to calm her nerves and asked if she could get some; I told her she'd have to wait for the beverage service to come around and that she'd have to pay for it.  She quickly replied, "I have money."  As we backed out of the gate April began asking how the pilots could see behind them--so I told her they have rear-view mirrors.  She believed me.   Then I pointed out that the airport had those guys with the vests and the glow-sticks to direct the pilots, and that since they did this several times per day, most of them were pretty good at it.   She still seemed tense.  Suddenly we stopped backing out and sat on the tarmac for a while.  April started asking her husband why we had to wait--like he knew.  She thought this might be because the plane was going to blow up.   I told her it wasn't.   Eventually we discovered the pause was because some woman was still in the bathroom and we had to wait for her to get out and buckled in before we could takeoff.  After she returned to her seat we got moving again and hit the runway. April noted that it was weird because the plane was driving all over the place like a giant car. When we actually lifted off, April looked out of the window at the rapidly receding landscape and squeaked "Oh. My. God."   Her children on the other side of the plane looked outside and decided it was "very cool."

For the next 15 minutes or so, April remained glued to the window with a blank look on her face in much the same way as a deer in headlights or like someone who can't look away from a grisly highway accident.   I told her that if it made her nervous she could always shut the shade, but she was so engrossed in her wonder and fear that she didn't even hear me.  Soon the plane leveled off, which seemed to snap April out of her trance, and she turned to me and noted that "we're up a really freaking long way."  I told her that we were probably up about 15,000 miles.   Her eyes goggled at me.  Didn't realize till tonight that I'd meant 15,000 feet and had misspoken. I felt bad, but I'm pretty sure that as far as April was concerned it didn't really matter, considering the whole thing made her twitchy enough either way that she had to whip out her inhaler and hit it twice after she broke contact with the window. Afterwards, April apologized to me for acting like a 10-year-old but I told her it was okay because everybody does that their first flight. Then I told her she when she landed, she'd no longer be a flight virgin. "You mean I still had another cherry to pop????" Oh, dear.

After we reached altitude, I tried to hook up to wifi but couldn't get any signal even after repeated attempts. (And yes, I am just that big of a nerd.)  So I started reading a book on my Kindle app instead, switching back and forth between it and the settings to see if the plane had achieved wifi yet.  Beside me April started fidgeting and asking "How can you get a drink around here???"   I told her the beverage service would start shortly because I could hear them hauling out the cart.  She grabbed a wad of money from her purse and sat on the edge of her seat like a kid desperate for the ice cream man to come...or like a kid doing the potty dance.  The cart finally came by and the attendant asked what we wanted to drink. April burst out with "I don't care, as long as it's got vodka in it!"  The attendant smirked and, after some minor negotiation, created a mixed drink of cranberry juice, orange juice, sprite, and an impressive quantity of vodka. She gave it to April to taste to make sure it was okay, to which April gave a thumbs-up.   I turned to her and asked if she could have vodka on top of the Abuterol or whatever was in her inhaler, but she just shrugged and said "One fixes a physical thing, the other fixes a mental thing."  Good to know.

April then told me that she was trying to avoid dipping into her anxiety meds (oh, holy crap) because she might need them later since she gets panic attacks.   That's partly what the inhaler is for, and also because she "smokes like a chimney."  She next told me that she sells sky diving lessons, which she is "really good at because she learned to lie well from a young age."   I gaped at her.  Someone who has never been on a plane sells sky diving lessons?  Irony alert, anyone?  While the attendant was getting our drinks, I asked her about the wifi. She promptly pulled her phone out of her bra and started booting it up. She hesitated, looking at all the other people she had to serve, then said she'd get back to me.   She never did.  Twenty minutes before the end of the flight I discovered that the wifi was finally accessible, but didn't see the point in paying full price for it with such a short time left in the flight.  Guess I didn't need to spend that $10 anyway.  I went back to reading, in between April's questions and entertaining observations such as "We're in a CLOUD...how can they see to drive through it??" "They can't--we're all gonna DIE!!!!" Just kidding--I didn't really tell her that.  Thought about it, though.  Don't poke the bear, Ginger...  Instead, I introduced her to the concept of "auto-pilot."  (As opposed to OTTO-pilot...)

On a side note, the book I just started reading on the plane was another of Diana Gabaldon's books from the Lord John series. As I was reading, Lord John came across a character named Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and I almost wet my pants with fangirl glee since Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart was the erstwhile Earth-bound companion of both Jon Pertwee's and Tom Baker's Doctor Who. I can't help wondering now if that was a freakish coincidence or if Gabaldon is a closet fan of the Whoniverse.  Anyway, as I sat reading, my toe started to burn painfully; apparently it's not any more fond of altitude than is April. It did really well with all the walking to the airport, but I suppose a pressurized cabin was too much to expect of a frostbitten digit. It's pretty sad when the part of my toe that hurts the most is not the site of the actual surgery/procedure but rather the skin significantly damaged by an overenthusiastic use of freeze spray at the podiatrist's office.

Around 2:30 April asked where I thought we were; I told her we weren't that far since most of the remaining 30 minutes would be spent circling, descending and taxiing to the gate. Ten minutes later, she decided she had to go to the bathroom and couldn't wait till we landed, so I had to pick everything up, put up the tray table, and unwedge myself from the tight seat. When I stood up to let her by, I noticed that the snotty lady behind us was now sitting in my old seat, fast asleep and with an empty chair next to her. How in the world is it fair that she gets my roomier chair and an empty companion seat while I'm up here crammed in with an extender and an anxiety-ridden air virgin, just because I tried to do a good deed? I'm thinking I deserve some serious karma points for this...

When April returned, she sat down and looked out the window.  She asked if we were flying over Buffalo because she thought she recognized a stadium below. I told her it was possible because it might either be in the flight path normally or might be because we were skirting some bad weather. Then she told me she was actually going to Buffalo but couldn't get on a direct flight because her family was flying standby and ended up getting routed into Rochester instead, where her father-in-law was going to pick them up. April then mentioned they were going to a family reunion, so I replied "coooool." But she said it was actually going to be GREAT, because they are "all Catholic so everyone will be drunk and there will be lots of liquor!" Well, okay, then. I asked if they were Irish, by any chance; not to cast racial aspersions at all, but I never thought of the average Catholic as a heavy drinker, unlike some Irish Catholic folks I know.  She informed me they were "Armenian. No, Iranian. No, Armenian. Or Italian. Armenian-Italian. Now my husband is pissed off at me..." I'm thinking the vodka did its job.

We continued descending and ultimately April survived her first-ever landing with little more than a tiny gasp. All things considered, she did quite well with her nerves and she made for an extremely entertaining seat companion, quite taking my mind off of my cramped quarters. Nor did she chat non-stop the entire way, which was also a big plus.  It was a good balance of quiet and crazy.

Once deplaned I acquired a sandwich from Subway for a late lunch, collected my luggage, and went to the curb to wait for my ride. I must say it was quite a weird sensation seeing my daughter, the one-time driving-phobe, happily waving at me as she pulled up to the curb.  In that moment, I could hear the audible "click" of our roles suddenly reversing.  Freaky.

The girlie took me to my hotel where we hung out for a bit while she opened her Harry Potter swag from Orlando.  Later, she drove me to Outback for dinner.  I still paid, of course, but she drove.  It was good to see her feeling more comfortable and confident behind the wheel of her car.  And, while we were tooling around town, I couldn't help but smirk at the memory of the highly colorful and vodka-fueled April.  So thanks, April, wherever you are, for making my flight much less boring than usual!


July 3, 2012

House of Pain

Not to sound macabre at all, but I hope one day I am fortunate enough to follow my mother-in-law's example and drop dead on the spot from a massive coronary or giant aneurysm or whatever it was she had, because if I get cancer (which seems highly probable after spending 18 years in a household full of smokers), I am screwed.  And not just because I have cancer.  The thing is, I hate needles.  Hate them.  As in "get the hell  away from me with that pointy metal spike, you MoFo!"  I always have.

I used to think it was just a "thing"; I mean, lots of people have needle phobia.  The grand irony is that I am a seamstress and play with needles and pins all the time, frequently stabbing myself with them as well.  Perhaps the difference is that I (theoretically) have control over my sharp pointy objects.  Also, they don't tend to penetrate as far into my flesh as when someone else is wielding them.  Regardless, I hate going to doctors and dentists because they inevitably hurt me (a lot), even when it's for my own good.  It wasn't till recently that I discovered this may be--in part--a side effect of spinning the genetic lottery and coming up with the MC1R recessive gene on chromosome 16.  In other words, red hair.  I've always heard that redheads tend to have increased pain sensitivity and certainly I do as well, though only for specific types of pain.  For example, while it still hurts me, I can generally handle blunt force (like walking into doorways, walls, people, lamp posts, etc) reasonably well.  I once walked around for weeks with an abscessed tooth and didn't know it until the dentist showed me the x-rays.  And that doesn't even count my walking around for 3-4 days with appendicitis, because it was only "a little distracting."  What I don't handle particularly well are instances in which my hull integrity is breached, such as by knives, needles, etc.  My skin has always reacted rather badly to such things, so I always assumed it was because I was so fair-skinned.  Recent studies like here and here explain that having not one but two copies of the MC1R gene not only gives us our red hair but, according to Pincott's article, causes receptors in our nervous system modulate pain more intensely.  At least that's the finding of one Edwin Liem of the University of Louisville, who further believes that the gene also affects hormones which then additionally stimulate pain receptors.  Also we bruise more easily (duh).
Cool.  Suddenly I'm finding my gingatude slightly less awesome.

Recent studies have also shown that redheads are more difficult to anesthetize, requiring 20-25% more general and local anesthesia than people of other hair colors, which may also contribute to why we are more than twice as likely as others to avoid dental care.  I know I am.  Going to the dentist when I was a kid was pretty freakin' traumatic.  At one point in my life I managed to avoid going to the dentist for 7 years.  I go regularly now, but it's still a stressful endeavor for me so I always have to find practitioners who claim to "cater to cowards."  Too bad all these studies weren't around when I was a kid and being tortured by brutal hygienists with little or no anesthesia; dental visits might have been much less horrific for me.  And I can definitely vouch for the "more anesthesia" thing as well; just before I got my epidural during labor I was told that I would only feel the first needle, which would numb the area so I didn't feel anything afterwards.  They were wrong.  I felt the first needle.  I felt the second.  I felt the third.  I felt them slide the last needle out of my back and off the tubing.  I had to be held down my both my husband and a nurse in order to keep me still enough to complete the procedure because I was sobbing so violently from the pain.  I'm starting to think that all redheads just need to come standard with medic-alert bracelets that read "Please jack me up with enough anesthesia to fell a rhino."

Anyway, all this is a precursor to explain the day of pain today which I've been dreading.  Last month I was supposed to go and have blood drawn for some routine labwork; some 5+ weeks later I finally forced myself back to the doctor's office.  I made every excuse I could to drag my feet, the most common being that since I slept too late (they suggested coming in at 8 am so I could break my fast sooner--I don't do early anymore) I was too hungry and it wasn't worth the bother.  I also told myself that if I got up and went at 8 am I could reward myself with breakfast at Panera's (because apparently I treat myself like a dog--"good, Ginger...GOOD Ginger!").  So naturally, if I couldn't get up and to the doctor's in time to be back at Panera's by 10:30 before they stopped serving breakfast, there was likewise no point in going if I was going to miss my lovely, lovely little power sandwich.  And of course the test was routine, so there was no rush.  Justification much, Ginger?

I decided to go ahead and force myself to go to the doctor's office today since I already had an appointment to see a podiatrist so I could have my big toe chopped off.  Okay, not really, but that's how it's going to feel.  My poor, pitiful big toe has suffered much in the past year.  The day before I went to Orlando with my friend, I stopped by a nail salon for a much-needed mani-pedi.  Fatal mistake.  On the plus side, the technician trimmed off the very last bit of damaged toenail that was originally traumatized by last year's break.  So finally, I have a relatively smooth, flat toenail of a normal width and not a mutant thickened one.  Only took a year...go me.  Of course, the sliver of toenail that the FMD removed in January because of my epic hangnail and infection is still only halfway grown out, but at least it's been making progress, or it was till last week.  After I got back from Orlando, I discovered that the corner or my toe was again getting red and irritated.  Because I'm an idiot who has apparently learned nothing, I attempted to "fix" it.  Big mistake.  In spite of attempted trims and repeated salt soaks, it continued to get worse and more infected.  I'd hoped to get it taken care of over the weekend with FMD because I'll be leaving Thursday to visit the girlie in NY and I wasn't particularly thrilled with the idea of hobbling all over the Atlanta-freakin'-airport, which is roughly the size of a small country.  Unfortunately, the FMD was inconveniently unavailable before today.  And, knowing that there was a fair chance of his referring me to a podiatrist anyway, I went ahead and sucked it up and made an appointment.  As it turned out, I could only get an appointment for today anyway because the podiatrist "does not see patients on Mondays and Fridays."  I almost canceled so I could go back to the FMD, but I am attempting (moderately successfully) to behave like a grownup.

Except I'm not a grownup, not really, and certainly not when it comes to medical procedures.  Nevertheless, this morning I dragged myself out of bed and drove to Dr. Earnest's office for the labwork, berating myself for going late because I was, yet again, going to miss my precious Panera's breakfast.  I sat waiting for 10-15 minutes to be called back, though the blood draw itself only took about 5 minutes.  I was greeted at the door by some random nurse, for which I was grateful since it meant that I would not be sitting and glaring balefully at Nurse Stupid while waiting for her to stab me with her syringe.  Not that it mattered, because the nurse I got still managed to give me one of the most painful sap taps I've ever had and for me, that's saying something.  Mercifully she did it in one stick, but it took her a while to find a vein; when she did, it was near the bottom of my elbow pit in the soft, vulnerable flesh most likely to rub up against things for the rest of the day, rather than in the traditional center of the elbow pit or even on the top side where I'd gotten my IV for my appendectomy.  I liked it there...much less jostling about.  Once she'd found the vein in question and plumped it up to her satisfaction, she tightened the elastic strap on my bicep and then jabbed me violently with the needle as thought it were a tiny little epee she and was trying to win a gold medal in the Olympic fencing finals.  I managed to keep the punctured arm still, but the rest of my body writhed in pain while tears stung my eyes.  "Are you okay?"  Yeah.  I'm peachy, thanks for asking.  Eventually she removed the little vampire fang and had me hold a gauze pad in place while she tore off a bit of (thankfully) paper tape.  Yay!  No contact blisters from the tape!!  She said the worst was over (she lied) and to remove the tape in five minutes, then I was free to go.  At 10:30.  When Panera ruthlessly starts refusing to serve sandwiches with eggs in them.  I cried like a little girl all the way home because the injection site was still burning like a mofo.  When I got home I removed the gauze, which was soaked in blood, presumably because of her somewhat inept assault on my arm.  The wound started bruising in less than 15 minutes.  Two hours from now I'm gonna look like a junkie.

O+, anyone?

After my non-Panera lunch, I headed over to the podiatrist to let him lop off my nail.  Since the man is  not FMD and since I've never met him I was understandably tense, my nerves already frayed from the earlier assault on my person, which only served to make me dread additional hypodermics in the extreme.  The pleasant young man I spoke to yesterday checked me in and took me back to a room where he and the nurse were ecstatic to learn that I have never smoked.  Doesn't mean I'm still not gonna die of lung cancer, because that's just how my life seems to operate.  I reiterated that I am a colossol pansy/wuss/coward regarding needles and asked them if they knew that redheads required an average of 20% more anesthetic to be sufficiently numbed, etc.  They did not know this and were fascinated with the possibility.  This did not bode well.

The young man left the room and the nurse told me to get in the chair and then promptly plonked down the loaded hypodermic on the table right in front of me.  Now call me cynical, but it seems to me that if my patient were already twitchy and had just professed both vehemently and volubly to having a fear of needles,
I might consider it a very bad idea to present the object of said phobia in living technicolor inches from the patient's face where it could scream things like "Look at me!!  I'm sharp!!  I'm going to cleave your flesh in two!!  Stabby, stabby, stabby!!  Pointy, pointy, pointy!!!  And I'm NOT going into anything soft and fleshy which might absorb the shock!  Instead, I'm going to jam into muscles and tendons just because I CAN.  Sucks to be YOU right now, doesn't it?!?!?!?"  Stupid needles.  Never know when to shut the hell up.  I told her I wanted the freeze spray like the FMD had used.  She tried to talk me out of it, saying it hurt more than the shots.  Liar.  She gave up, leaving me alone to contemplate the harbinger of pain sitting before me with my highly overactive imagination.  For 15 minutes.  Also a very bad idea. 

By the time the doctor came in, I had tears rolling down my eyes and was jumpy and scared shitless.  The doctor came in, too one look at me and said, "You look scared, Mary."  Incidentally, I find the doctor's name endlessly entertainting; he appears to be of Middle Eastern descent and every time I see his name I want to pronounce it "Knick-knacks," so that's what we're gonna call him today.  Anyway, Dr. KnickKnacks says "Mary" in a very interesting way.  Seems not only is he from whatever Middle Eastern country, he studied medicine in Cardiff, Wales and then spent many years working in New York.  So his accent is quite unique, and when he says "Mary," there is an almost audible pause between the a and the r, making is sound sort of like "Mehrhie."  No doubt I would have enjoyed this more (language and dialect nerd that I am) had I not been ready to rocket past him and out of the room.

I informed him that I was indeed scared and started babbling incoherently about hating needles and how I didn't know him and he was going to hurt me and how no one ever gave me enough anesthetic at first and how I hate needles (again), etc.  He asked me what had happened to give me such a bad experience and I babbled some more.  Then he asked what had happened and I explained the whole broken toe and jacked nail and infection in January, etc.  He asked if FMD had hurt me and that's why I was so upset.  I told him "No, I love FMD--he's my hero because he didn't hurt me."  I told him that FMD had taken it slow and that any time I felt pain, he'd jacked up the anesthetic.  To his credit, Dr. Knickknacks actually paid attention--mostly--telling me he would never hurt me "on purpose."  He did use the freeze spray on me and then inserted the first needle.  This went fine until the medicine started to burn like fire ants inside my skin.  Next he did the second shot, just like FMD had done, again using the freeze spray first.  Then he left to tend other patients while I got sufficiently numbed up, but not before asking me first if I wanted a magazine or my phone "to play with" while I waited.

Fifteen or so minutes later he came back to start the procedure.  He scrubbed down my toe with betadine (my first two toes are still yellow) and then started started squeezing out all the trapped pus (tasty, right?). Which I felt.  There wasn't as much pain as there would have been with no anesthetic, but I still felt significant discomfort and when he started to cut, I kept jerking my foot away.  So he asked if I needed more anesthetic.  I tried to say no, but he replied, "It's okay if you need more...we aren't cheap here."  That made me laugh a little, so I said yes and he left to get more anesthetic.

After shooting me up again, he got back to work, asking me questions all the while in a blatant attempt to distract me.  He asked all the usual small talk sorts of questions:  Are you from here?  Where do you work?  Why do you live here if you aren't from here?  And of course he asked about my daughter, and how old she was, affecting surprise that I had a kid that old and commented that I'd clearly "started early."  I don't call "27" early, but whatever, dude.  Then he asked if I had more kids.  I told him no.  "Why did you stop?  Did you not want more??"  Thanks, dude.  Appreciate that.  Thanks for reminding me of our secondary infertility.  "I didn't 'stop.'"  "OH.  So you do like kids then?  That's good."  WTF, dude? 

Aside from that little bit of  "mind your own effing business," he seemed like a nice enough guy; more importantly, he didn't seem at all put out by my enormous wussery.  Afterwards, he asked if I wanted to take the hangnail home.  "Not particularly."  Then he asked if I wanted to see it, so I answered "Sure."  What the heck, right?  He'd already told me that when the nail root is damaged, such as when one stupidly drops nightstands on one's toe, the nail eventually starts growing back, but it doesn't grow back straight like you'd expect.  Instead, it grows back up AND out sideways.  Even so, I was surprised to see how wide the sliver of nail was.  It was easily twice as wide as the visible nail growing out from the last hangnail-ectomy, half of which had been imbedded in my skin.   So it seems FMD was right.  Even though he would likely have been a little gentler or perhaps less scary since I already knew him, ultimately I'd have ended up at a podiatrist anyway because this would continue happening every time my nail tried to grow out after the break.  At least this way I cut out the middle man, so to speak.  Dr. Knickknacks flushed out the infection and killed off that corner of my nail root so that sliver of nail can't grow anymore.  I was told that as the toe healed, my skin would fold over the damaged area and "hug" my nail.  I looked at him dubiously.  He said "That's what we call that."  Presumably this will make my nail perfectly normal again, if a little narrower than previously.  Whatever.  At this point, I'm just freaking over it all.

"Yello?  You called??"
(Infected feet are puffy feet.  Though that bag of popcorn I had at the
movie theater last night probably didn't help much...)

Surprisingly, he didn't give me any antibiotics.  He didn't seem to think I'd need them provided I follow the take home instructions exactly, which involve soaking my foot in a magic solution of epsom salts and betadine, torturing the open wound with peroxide, and keeping it wrapped and dry for two weeks.  Because that's gonna happen when I'm in New York for 4 days.  I can only imagine the looks TSA will give me when I try to carry a little brown bottle of suspect fluid and a bag of salt onto the plane.  Clearly, I'm gonna have to check a bag, which means there's a good chance all my clothes will end up stained yellow.

Oh, well.  It could be worse, I suppose.  I'm alive.  It isn't cancer.  It's just me behaving like Cardinal Wussington over some very minor surgery.  In fact, when I went the office to provide my copay, both the nurse and the nice young man said I'd done very well because "we couldn't hear you at all."  I found this rather disconcerting, but they informed me that they routinely had big, burly men in there screaming at the tops of their lungs like six-year-olds.  Suddenly blubbering doesn't seem so horrible.  Also?  Best part?  The first line of the instruction sheet reads "Okay, you've had enough excitement for one day.  Go home and stay off your feet."

I left, intending to acquire my betadine and additional salts at CVS and then lunch at Outback since I'd missed Panera's.  Except I forgot that Outback doesn't start serving till 4 pm.  Sigh.  This is why I doubled up the appointments...I knew it was going to be a sucky day all 'round.  On the way home my car's thermometer read 104 degrees, but as I neared my house, I saw a storm coming; by the time I was home the temperature outside had dropped nearly 20 degrees and I pulled into my garage just before rain started thundering down.  Thank heavens for small favors.  And now I sit typing this, with my arm burning from the puncture site and the scratch next to it (apparently the nurse earlier doesn't know how to do smooth jabs), as well as from a point a couple of inches past the wound where the needle would have stopped inside the vein.  Because yeah, I am THAT sensitive.  My toe is still blissfully numb, though I felt a couple of twinges a moment ago, so that's not gonna last much longer.  Hopefully it will at least hold out till I can do a quick solo practice for my choral group's show and get back home where I can sit snug in my jammies while my various body parts shoot little jolts of stinging pain at regular intervals and sulk over this one significant drawback to being a ginger.

EDITED TO ADD:

Finally got blood test results back from Dr. Earnest's office (after they lost them for a while)--turns out my cholesterol is actually good and my blood sugar, though high, is in normal range.  Yay!

This is my arm maybe 36 hours after the blood draw.  Yay, crappy needle sticks!
(Three weeks later, there was still the faint shadow of a bruise.)

July 2, 2012

Lessons I Learned From Orlando Theme Parks

A week ago yesterday I was given the opportunity to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter courtesy of a dear friend.  Even if I weren't already a big Potter nerd (never mind a Doctor Who nerd, Big Bang Theory nerd, Sci-Fi nerd, and several other sorts of nerds--it gets crowded in my head), it would still have been a big deal because I have never been to Disney or any park on that level.

Don't all nerds have a tasty candy coating?

She looks disconcertingly like I did in high school.  Stop breaking into my photo albums, XKCD!

Sure, when I was in high school, I went to King's Island once or twice on school trips and my family did go to Silver Springs in Florida one year; I may have even been to a Six Flags at some point, but I have never done the big D on either coast or Universal or anything else themed on that scale.  So this was a first.  Unfortunately, it rained ALL DAY last Sunday, vacillating between a light sprinkle and an outright deluge.  Still, we managed to have a good (if soggy) time and I learned a few vital lessons from my first foray into the Land of Unreality that is Orlando, which I am now going to share with you.  You're welcome.

1.  Rainy season in Florida appears to begin exactly at the state line. 
Seriously...I'm not joking.  I drove several hours through sunny Georgia, only to have looming dark clouds appear within a mile of the state line.  The clouds opened up and rained down on me just as I was crossing the line.  I'm convinced this was pre-planned, just as I'm convinced that the names of waterways such as "Withlacoochie River" were created expressly to screw with my head.  The whole drive home I saw signs everywhere proclaiming "Withlacoochie" this and "Withlacoochie" that, making me constantly wonder if there were any rivers, towns or bars called "Without la coochie" as well.

The Sunshine State...except when I visit...

2.  My GPS doesn't know how to get to Universal.  So yours probably doesn't, either.
My friend's family and I drove in separate cars over to Orlando because they were staying the night there and I wasn't.  Since I have a TomTom app on my phone (best $50 I ever spent), I ended up leading the way.  For the most part things went smoothly, at least until we neared the park.  Paul (my helpful Australian GPS voice--"That's not a roight tuhrn...this is a roight tuhrn...") led me straight past the main park entrance and down to another road which lead to some warehouse-looking buildings.  Apparently Paul thinks that the back of the makeup and costume trailers is a good way to access the parks.  Paul is incorrect.  Fortunately, we were able to double-back to the main entrance without too much trouble.

3.  The parking levels are also themed.
We parked in the Cat in the Hat section.  No doubt our vehicles were subjected to all sorts of feline depredations in our absence, which were cleared away moments before our return.  Also, don't you find it ironic that a bit of verse should be called "doggerel" if it's in a book about a cat?  I'm just sayin'.

4.  Waiting in line in the rain to get a wand at Ollivander's is much less unpleasant if you're drinking a Butterbeer.
Make that a frozen butterbeer, preferred by park patrons 10-1.  Also, I'm told that you can usually get one at the Hog's Head Pub (located in the back of the Three Broomsticks)  much faster than you can at the carts in Hogsmeade, which generally have long lines.   The food at the Three Broomsticks was quite good, by the way; try to avoid going between 12 and 3, though--that's when the lunch rush is.  Incidentally, you don't have to go to Ollivander's to get a wand; in fact, only one of 25 people gets to be "chosen" by a wand as they re-enact the iconic scene from the movie.  My friend's daughter was the one chosen in our group, so that was fun to watch.  Afterwards, we were all herded next door into the Owl Post so the rest of us could purchase our own wands.  I found an Ash wand that I liked because of the scrolly handle and finial on the end.  Since I'm a huge nerd (did I mention that I'm a huge nerd?), I had to find a box that wasn't battered or bruised or torn in any way before I could purchase it.  When I got it home, I discovered that the wand was slightly warped and has a noticeable curve to it.  Clearly I should have checked the wand in the box I selected instead of assuming they were all identical.  On the other hand, my thoughtful daughter pointed out that perhaps my wand chose me after all, since we're both a little warped.  Thanks, Honey.

My friend's daughter prepares to "Swish and Flick."





Wandivander's

Wands on display in the Owl Post next to Ollivander's.

5.  If you must carry a bag of some sort, carry a backpack rather than a purse.
I saw tons of people with backpacks, which was definitely the better choice in the rain since they were subjected to much less precipitation.  They also conveniently leave one's hands free to carry more plunder manipulative marketing tie-ins souvenirs.  Plus you get to see everyone walking around like refugees from The Hunchback of Notre Dame with their backpacks humped under their rain ponchos.

6.  Rain ponchos sound good, but they only work to a point.
The problem with the rain ponchos is that while they did a decent job of keeping the rain off my front and back, even when snapped shut the slits down the side allowed water to sneak in and stream down, soaking both pockets and pants.  Furthermore, the opening at the neck successfully diverts rain down the front and back of your clothes anyway, since sufficient wind will keep blowing the largely pointless hood back and exposing the neck opening to precipitation penetration.  As if that weren't enough, the ponchos reduce airflow, thereby making you sweat far more than you might otherwise.  So wearing one is a bit six of one, half dozen of the other.  I suppose they would be more effective in drizzly rain than they were in a downpour, but still.  Also, trying to use the restroom in sodden pants and a plastic poncho is not for the faint of heart.  You'd have more success trying to dance the tarantella in molasses while wearing full football gear.  Which reminds me...

7.  Wear football pads.
Seriously...the people at the park, whether native Floridians or obvious tourists (especially tourists, who are determined to make the most of their limited visitation time, dammit, come hell or high [tropical storm] water) have absolutely no concept of either right of way or of peaceful egress from rides.  They will mow. you. down. without a second thought.  And that's when it's NOT raining and they AREN'T trying to crowd into whatever few dry spots or shops are available.

8.  Hogwart's Castle has no cell phone coverage.
Apparently the magic does not extend to Muggle mobile devices.  Surprisingly, it does extend to the ever-present snow atop the buildings of Hogsmeade, which doesn't melt even when the temperature is in the '90s.  In Florida.  Still, while the snow looked oddly plastic, not unlike a petrified Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, it looked good from a distance and the stone façades of the buildings were really well done and reasonably convincing.  Next time I visit I'm disguising my cell phone as an owl.  Maybe then I'll have better luck with communications.

Hogwarts Castle and ponchoed pedestrians

Hogsmeade, Land of the Eternal [plaster] snow (and, apparently, Mickey Mouse).

9.  The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is smaller than you might expect.
Don't get me wrong--the place was cool.  We visited Zonko's joke shop, Honeyduke's, and Ollivander's/Owl Post--though I didn't look much past the wands at the Owl Post.  Turns out there was additional merchandise farther back.  There is a replica of the Hogwart's Express, complete with random bits of luggage on the platform to enhance the ambience, as well as a cheerful conductor standing ready to take pictures with you.  There are a couple of rides in the area as well as the castle, of course, which boasts a ride that appears to be the main draw of the attraction.  Unfortunately, I didn't get to ride; turns out my chest was too big for me to fasten the safety harness/bars and the attendants are no longer allowed to "push" it down on you.  If you can't click it yourself, no ridey.  Instead, I was given the opportunity to stand in a hall and watch everyone else jump off the moving seats as they went by, after which they expressed their joy over the awesomeness which I'd missed.  I especially appreciated the woman who jumped off and screamed in my face (twice) that the ride was "worth the 90 bucks (admission price) right there!!" while waving her hands about.  It was awesome.  So, for future reference, the well-endowed should wear the tightest bra they own, or else strap 'em down with an Ace bandage.

The Hogwarts Express, complete with steam.

"Now, with Abandoned Baggage Decor!"

Before you actually get on the ride, however, you are herded through the castle.  On the trip you get to see Professor Binn's classroom, Dumbledore's office, the glass meters with the house point stones, etc.  All along the way are digitized portraits that talk and interact with each other, emulating those in the movie.  There are also 3-D projections of the Dumbledore and the three kids, who talk to you as you pass through.  But once you finished in the castle, that was pretty much all that was left.  I saw several other shop façades with "closed" signs on them, so I thought we'd seen everything.  Naturally, after we left the park, I discovered that there were actually a couple of other shops we'd missed:  Dervish and Banges and Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods.  Whoops.

The "entrance" to Dumbledore's study.

Instead of talking heads, talking portraits.

Dumbledore sees you picking your nose.

10.  Speaking of boobs, soggy boobs are not happy boobs.  I'm just sayin'.

11.  Purchasing a lot of souvenirs at your first stop sounds like a good idea--till you have to carry them all through the parks for the rest of the day, never mind in the pouring rain.
As I understand it, one of the glories of Disney is that if you're staying in one of the resort hotels, they will deliver your purchases directly. to. your. room. for you.  Not so in Universal.  Carrying the wand box wasn't so bad, though the corners tended to create stress marks in the bag holding it, so I spent the whole day checking it for signs of breakage and water damage.  Then of course there was all the twisting of the bags to keep the rain out of them.  The biggest problem for me, though, was my brilliant decision to purchase two glass apothecary jars full of candy to take home.  Not surprisingly, they got very heavy, very quickly.  In retrospect, it would almost have been worth going back to make selections when you were done seeing everything.  

My warped wand.
Some of Honeyduke's offerings

12.  Lots of water is a wonderful thing.  Sometimes.
Lots of water pouring down all day gets really old really fast.  While gallons of water may have been great for hydrating my exposed arms to silky softness by the end of the day, it didn't exactly do much for my one-day-old nail polish, which was sluicing off in little pink sheets by the end of the afternoon.  Cheap $12 metal watches are less than appreciative as well, a point brought to my attention the next morning when my host's young son woke me up to inform me that my watch had water in it.  In case I didn't know.  Three days later it still had water in it.  After a nice, long rice bath, however, it seems to have recovered with minimal ill-effect.

Meanwhile, standing out of the rain (but still soaking wet and with sweat dribbling down your back) for over an hour to get into the Shrek 4-D ride at the Universal theme park only to have them shake your seat about and spew yet MORE water into your face is somewhat less than thrilling.  No doubt this would be much more enjoyable on a hot, sunny day.  To be fair, the incessant rain meant that we didn't get nearly as hot as we would have otherwise--but that still doesn't mean I'm gonna make a habit of visiting theme parks in tropical storms.

13.  Theme Parks are evil marketing geniuses.
Virtually every single ride or activity that we explored in either theme park spit us out directly into a store laden with merchandising tie-ins for our perusal:  See Ollivander and end up in the Owl Post.   Like Hogwart's Castle?  Have some house robes and Marauder's Maps.  Wanna see Shrek 4D?  How about some nice ogre ears to take home?  Or, if you prefer Despicable me, there's always a plethora of fuzzy plush minions to cuddle.  Seriously...they know you have kids, and that there is no escape except past the cash registers.  Evil, I tell you.

14.  The Hard Rock Cafe can cure a multitude of ills.
I rapidly discovered that my rain tolerance was probably running out after around three hours, though I lasted for an additional 2-3 past that.  Even in the company of good friends and an exciting atmosphere, teeming rain and tired feet do tend to make one feel miserable fairly quickly.  Though we took a brief break before heading to the Universal Studios park from the Islands of Adventure park where Harry Potter is, we petered out pretty quickly once there, only managing the Shrek and Despicable Me rides and some shopping at the Universal Studio store.  The studio store provided a significantly more pleasant (or at least relaxing) shopping experience, in part because there were no crowds of people cramming in on top of you in ten minute intervals or trying to grab things from your hands.  Also, while perhaps not as extensive as the individually-themed shops, the Universal store had a little something from every one of the attractions--one-stop shopping, if you will.  But I digress.

After our foray into the Land of the Empty Wallet, we decided to have dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, whose claim to fame is that it is the biggest of all the Hard Rock Cafes, and indeed it had (at least) two full floors of tables.  So now I've eaten in the biggest, as well as the first Hard Rock (in London), and the one on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls among others.  I'm becoming a freakin' Hard Rock connossieur.  We all sat down, blissfully divesting ourselves of both packages and ponchos, and quickly ordered hot coffees, hot teas, and hot cocoas all around.  Hot drinks in June...welcome to Floridian irony.  After a few minutes we began to warm back up and our feet began to stop cussing us out and we began to unwind.  I ordered a big cheeseburger and joyously inhaled it and all its caloric glory, which would no doubt be enough to feed a small African country for a week.  That burger was utter and delicious decadence from first bite to final burp (several hours later), and kindled a small, warm glow in the pit of my stomach.

Hard Rock Orlando, on a sunnier day than we had.

Because every restaurant needs a full-sized pink Cadillac suspended over the bar.

15.  Remember to remove the green parking post-it from under your wipers BEFORE you leave the park in the pouring rain.
If you don't, you'll get to spend the next half hour watching it biodegrade on your windshield as the wiper blade scoots bits of it off to the side until it looks like a bunch of tennis ball fuzzies and/or Shrek boogers.   On the plus side, it provides a vaguely entertaining distraction from the considerable traffic formed by sodden people leaving the parks in droves.  One of the best bits of advice we got before going to the park was to be there when it opens because it's less busy, and indeed the traffic was noticeably lighter on the way to the parks than it was on the return trip, as was the park itself.

15a.  Three days after your visit your calves will STILL be remembering the extra 6 miles you walked that your brain has been trying to block out of existence, and they will still HATE YOU.
I marked this as "15a" rather than "16" because I wanted to end on a nice, round multiple of 5 and if I'd used "16" I would have felt obligated to make up 4 crappy observations just to round out the list to 20.  No one needs to see that.  But, if it makes you feel better, I offer the following in tribute to the magical land of Seuss, through which we had to pass to get to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter:

Do you like to have a list?
Does disorder make you twist?
Do you like O, C and D?
Are you anal, just like me?
Yes, I like my stuff just so,
And really, so do YOU, you know.

In spite of the endless rain and the tired tootsies, I did have a good time, not the least because I got to spend a few hours with a dear friend for the first time in a couple of years--and that is worth all the rain in Florida.

July 1, 2012

"We're Havin' a Heat Wave..."

The heatwave through the mid-US continues, as evidenced by my car's thermostat today.  If this continues, I'm gonna need to find my handbasket...

Where's the "Ice, Ice Baby" when you need it?

With an inferno of this summer's caliber, the following was only a matter of time:

Frosty's relatives killed in a senseless melting--film at eleven.
Keep cool and safe, everybody!