Friday, September 16, 2011


I spent several hours yesterday trying to tidy up the house. At the best of times, this can be a rather slow process, as I easily become waylaid by interesting articles in the stacks of journals, periodicals, and book reviews lying around my room. I brewed a pot of coffee and gave myself permission to do a little intellectual arcade strolling for a while.

I deplored how sticky my mind feels as I read, like it's dragging through treacle, and remembered what my psychiatrist friend had asked me the weekend before. After talking about the Topamax, he'd said, "And do you feel that your thinking is..." "Stupid?" I blurted, finishing his sentence for him. "Slow was what I was thinking," he replied with a smile. Argh. I hate this drug, but I promised I would stick with it a little longer. I feel that I lose some of my mental acuity on it, but on the other hand, it dulls my anger and sadness and I haven't felt half as annoyed about half the people things that used to bother me, so that's a plus. Maybe taking the blue pill and never knowing the Matrix exists isn't such a bad thing.

So I wandered happily through reviews of exhibitions the Royal Academy and other venues in London and thought about documentary photography for the first time in years; decided that my new television obsession will have to be "The Hour" on BBC America, which apparently gives "Mad Men" a true run for its money; and delighted in Toni Bentley's delicious description of Violet Trefusis' mental state, imagined by today's standards, but wait for the punchline: "Today Violet would be on a Lexapro cocktail with an Abilify chaser, Ritalin with some Ativan on the side for particularly fiery outbursts, while attending daily meetings of Sex Addicts Anonymous after a few weeks of inpatient therapy with Dr. Drew at Almost-a-Celebrity Rehab. But instead of all this to rein in her emotional anarchy, she had the old-fashioned cure, a formidable mother." I was excited to see Sir Michael Holroyd's new biography of Vita Sackville-West and Violet Keppel, A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers, on several counts; Holroyd is a brilliant writer and biographer; his research is encyclopedic. His wit and compassion for his subjects, combined with the thorny issue of illegitimate daughters, only adds to his allure. Although Bloomsbury is well trammeled territory, I am confident in the hands of Sir Michael, and from the new point of view of the paternity and illegitimacy, there might be new things to learn. Curious.

From Bloomsbury to Bosch. I read a rich essay by Terry Castle on Outsider Art in The London Review of Books. In one segment, she wrote about her childhood fascination with Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights: "The weird punishments visited on the sinners in Hell were riveting enough, but even  freakier, possibly, were the pleasures to be found in Bosch's world--the surreal salamander bliss depicted in the eponymous Garden and beyond. Strangest of all: the fact that outlandish things were happening--all over the painting--but that nobody, even in hell, looked to be particularly tormented. Indeed, some of the little naked human figures seemed to display a near comical sangfroid, even as they were pecked by giant birds, hatched out of egg, had huge flowers inserted in their bottoms, or, in the case of one of my favourites, sported a monstrous blueberry instead of a head. What sort of person could have dreamed this up?"

My answer? Tongue in cheek, of course, but the same kind of person who insists that adoptees aren't allowed to define their own narratives. They paste smiles on our faces because that's the way they want to see us. If we say we feel otherwise, well, there's no "science" to prove that we can feel that way. Aren't there lots of happy adoptees who have blueberries for heads? And why do these experts/concerned individuals/Bigfoot hunters/alien debunkers feel free to tell us this is normal? Because, once again, they feel we aren't quite human. Mockery is such fun sport.

And yet we are human. We are individuals, each with our own stories, our own paths and journeys, we were all separated from our mothers. That is our truth. We aren't imaginary creatures, figments of an artist's wonderful, crazy thoughts, or members of a cult. We have lived what we lived, and we remember it. It's in our minds and bodies.

It had never occurred to me before, but Bosch's painting, with all of its serene smiling in the face of suffering, really is like one big adoptee nightmare. Well done, Bosch. Dogma is dogma is dogma.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Last week I put on my Danskos and went back to work. As ever, it kicked my ass. There is so much to manage, and I was humbled. I was fortunate to have the support and mentoring of my beloved senior friend M for two days as I got my feet wet again.

It was fantastic to have M behind me, reminding me to draw up cord blood (the second time before it congealed), and to help me balance monitoring, to bounce off my clinical skills, and to help me get things done within a resonable amount of time. Even when working on my own with all my skills and faculties about me, I liken my job to riding a unicycle and juggling torches and balancing a chainsaw on a toothpick held in my teeth. Having M with me made returning to work much less of an anxiety fest because she'd see when the chainsaw was about to tip or one of the torches was about to catch the curtains on fire. She is an angel. 

I had two great patients and two wonderful deliveries. The first day my patient was teenager--with the father of the baby, their parents, and a great-grandmother--and it was heartwarming to see a baby so wanted and loved. Managing her emotions and needs was a little harder, as she was still a child herself, but it was a challenge I was up to. The second day I had a straightforward young couple with no complications. 

My third day back was more challenging, as I worked with a young couple suffering from the unexpected intrauterine demise of their first child. I sat with them, admitted them, cried with them, and started the woman's induction of labor. Then, and more painfully, I had to ask the parents to sign papers related to the disposition of their child's remains. Who thinks they will go in to Labor and Delivery to sign a Death Certificate? It's horrifically brutal, and probably the worst part of my job. I explained to them how I, or another nurse, would bathe their baby, take pictures, take footprints, and create a box of memories for them, as well, and how spending time with them is an honor for me. 

A few days later I was speaking to C about being back at work, and I told her that my charge RN had entrusted me with the couple with the fetal demise. I said that the charge RN had probably given me that assignment because I was newly returned and slow. She said no, the charge RN had given me that assignment because I am a kind person who is able to take care of a couple who needed special care. I felt so warm and validated; I think C really gets me. She's right. I am very good at the psycho-social stuff at work. 

So while work has been positive, health issues have not been great. I had a repeat of the radio-frequency ablation of the celiac plexus that resulted in more pain. I ended up in the ED at UCSF on Thursday night with intractable pain following the procedure, and at least the MDs could rule out an internal bleed. It seems that the resident nicked the wrong nerve and caused swelling elsewhere, so now I have pain in two places rather than just one. As two friends of mine put it, "It's you, Kara, so it couldn't be easy. You should have asked for the atypical side effects." I was also incredibly pissed off that the resident didn't seem to have read my chart before the procedure, because when he was asking questions of me, and when I asked questions of him, he was clueless about some very big facts 10 minutes before the procedure. I made an appointment with the attending later this week, and this shortcoming will be discussed. For. Certain. There is NEVER an excuse not to read a chart. I am curiously still Zen about it all; maybe the Topamax is keeping me on even keel, although I am irritated about the pain and wonder what the long-term plan is going to be. For now, I keep putting one foot in front of the other and avoiding known stressors. 

The kids are both enjoying school, and Tobey has taken to Kindergarten in a way I had never dreamed he would. His teacher had sent home a poem for him to memorize and recite in front of the class next week, and we'd half-heartedly begun to go over it. Callum had always been my poetry man, although Tobey had begun showing interest. He came home today waving a sticker, excitedly announcing that he'd already recited the poem and that he wants to sit and read more poetry with me. I had no idea that he'd learned it (he perfected it listening to the other children recite!). That Tobey is a dark horse, and an exciting dark horse he is. Clever one. 

Callum has his first crush and is coping with the knowledge that the girl is moving away at the end of this year; her family is military. We spent the weekend camping together with her family, and then last night, after we came home, he was bereft. He is busy coming up with elaborate plans to show this girl, for the next 10 months, how much she means to him. He told me that I will be busy taking the both of them to the Academy of Sciences, the DeYoung Museum, the Legion of Honor, and other dates. Could be fun for all of us. ;-)

Sunday, September 04, 2011


I have been living too much of my life by proxy this past year, wanting to build relationships with people I don't know and who don't really know me or have time for me, spending time on the Internet in fights that aren't worth my time, debating people whose arguments aren't worth the dirt on my shoe. I'm finished with that. It's been positive over this past month to step back and ground myself. To let people go, and see who comes back to me. It's been quite illuminating; I hold people to high standards, it's true, but that's okay. It's time to put myself first.

I was thinking about a post that Amanda made on her blog about coming to peace with oneself on one's adoption journey, and perhaps I'm closer to that place than I had thought.

I have been able just to be.

I spent a great long weekend with my aparents in Southern California the week before last, nerding out, swimming, playing with the kids, watching movies, and enjoying my father's birthday present. I gave him a lecture series on the Vikings. Yes, we are seriously that nerdy of a family. It made me realize how wonderful it is that I belong to my aparents; I wouldn't trade them for the world. They understand me like no one else, and it is what it is. They are my home, my support, my most constant source of unconditional love. And as much as adoption has left me with loss, they are its gain for me.

While I was visiting my aparents, I also spent a part of a day with my brother and his family, and for the first time, we could actually just be as well. I think we were all relieved and happy about that. It was also the first time we were together that I didn't cry. Maybe it was the drugs. Maybe it was having Callum with me. I don't know, I don't care. It made me wish that we could work on getting to know each other as people. Perhaps we can try.