I had wanted to write something soft and sweet about Hento, because that’s what he was, but apparently that’s just not yet where I’m at. The last two and a half years (plus) have really kicked me in the teeth, and to lose my emotional support animal in that manner at that time just…
Let’s say there’s a lot of pain and anger, still.
The estate chaos is finally over, Autumn is peeking around the corner, the household is looking at our next steps together into a scary but exciting stage, and I’ve unexpectedly fallen in love with another dog far sooner than I expected to be capable of it.
Life goes on. I imagine my rage at the universe for what it did to Hento will cool eventually.
As we enter a new season here at Château Dinosaur, my thoughts turn again toward getting a handle on my most problematic post-thyroidectomy life change: brain fog.
It has been difficult – in part because of the brain fog – to try to convey to the people around me just how serious the issue is. We’ve all felt “a little out of it” before, or had memory blips, or been so fatigued after a late night that it’s hard to think straight, so people tend to assume they know what brain fog is and that it’s possible to just rest up and recover from it. It’s not. Also the term, “brain fog” sounds unserious and made-up, in no way capturing the debilitating and very real effects of losing your ability to marshal your higher brain functions.
With COVID-19 still ripping through the population here in the US, leaving millions in its wake to struggle with the effects of long-COVID, the seriousness of brain fog has finally been garnering mainstream attention. People dealing with various chronic illnesses like ME, CFS, and yes, hypothyroidism, have tried for decades to get the medical establishment and the general public to take this symptom seriously.
When I read this article from Ed Yong at The Atlantic, about brain fog, I legitimately shed tears. Brain fog is real, it’s a medical condition, it’s not psychosomatic, and it is absolutely life-ruining. We need people on this, urgently.
Within two months after my thyroid was removed due to cancer in 2020, I stopped feeling like me. Stopped being able to read more than a sentence before losing my handle on the words. Stopped being able to formulate complex thoughts. Stopped being able to write. Started making simple mistakes in my daily tasks, forgetting my vocabulary, feeling vacant. I felt like I was disappearing, had real fears that I was experiencing early-onset dementia.
At the time, I was trying to put together the release of my second book. It became impossible to do things like write press releases, communicate with reviewers, or contact press. I was supposed to do a Q&A – couldn’t answer questions about my own work. Couldn’t remember my own work. I still can’t. The entire release collapsed into a sad nothing, along with my hopes of launching a successful career as a novelist.
These passages from Ed Yong’s excellent article struck a knifeblade of truth right into my heart:
“Her memory, once vivid, feels frayed and fleeting. Former mundanities—buying food, making meals, cleaning up—can be agonizingly difficult. Her inner world—what she calls ‘the extras of thinking, like daydreaming, making plans, imagining’—is gone. The fog ‘is so encompassing,’ she told me, ‘it affects every area of my life.’”
“At its core… it is almost always a disorder of ‘executive function’—the set of mental abilities that includes focusing attention, holding information in mind, and blocking out distractions. These skills are so foundational that when they crumble, much of a person’s cognitive edifice collapses. Anything involving concentration, multitasking, and planning—that is, almost everything important—becomes absurdly arduous. ‘It raises what are unconscious processes for healthy people to the level of conscious decision making.’”
The article does offer a ray of hope: apparently brain fog can be reversed with proper care. It’s possible that I might recover my stories one day. All two of the people waiting for me to write the third book in my trilogy will no doubt be pleased by that. I would just like to feel like me again. It might sound weird to say I want to hear the voices again, but I’m a writer. Was a writer. Want being a writer back.
The 2020s have taken enough from me already. They can’t have my internal life too. I refuse.
After a long, grim winter that refused to quit, it’s finally spring. Robin’s egg blue sky, fluffy clouds, a gorgeous breeze, and all the birdsong you could hope for on such a perfect day. I sit out on my back porch and watch the leaves dancing in that soft breeze with an even softer Husky by my feet. Hento lifts his snoot and gently sniffs what the wind brings to him, radiating contentment. We’ve done this, almost exactly this, many times together; it’s one of his favorite ways to spend a fine afternoon.
It’s impossible to believe that right now, in this perfect spring moment, my dog is dying.
He doesn’t even look sick. A little tired maybe, but he has always taken things at a slower pace than most other dogs. Shortly after my thyroid crisis in 2020, he was diagnosed with hypothyroidism too, which had explained a lot about why he wasn’t the ball of energy and mischief that people always expect from a Husky. That could be why it took us a while to notice the first signs when the lymphoma hit him.
I don’t know. I don’t know. My vision blurs as I look down at my sweet Hento by my feet and I just don’t know. Could we have bought him more time if we’d caught it sooner? Were there any signs he would have let us see? For the four years he’s lived with us, Hento has always remained something of an enigma, past trauma turning him inward to guard his feelings. I get it, but I’ve always wished he would let me in, now more than ever.
But even if he had, would I have noticed? Jon and I have been wrapped up in our stupid human bullshit all year as we’ve handled the passing of his father in February and the resulting estate chaos. We keep saying we’ll take Hento someplace nice for a long weekend when we’re done managing the estate.
We keep apologizing to him for the time we have to spend away from home, cleaning out the old house to sell. It’s a crumbling disaster and the toll the work takes on us is as brutal emotionally as it is physically. We come home drained, to a dog who doesn’t even seem to miss us because he’s so angry at us for being gone. Another emotional blow.
When this is over, we promise him. We’ll take you someplace nice and relax together when this is over.
Except there is no together now when it’s over. He is leaving us and there isn’t enough time to say goodbye. He doesn’t even look sick, not today, but it won’t be long they say. They say they can’t believe he walked into the hospital on his own, as sick a boy as he is. They say we can try treatment, but it’s a matter of buying him days, weeks, months at the optimistic most, and we need to think about whether he needs that or whether we’re being selfish. They say a lot of things I don’t really hear because there’s just a deafening roar inside my head.
My dog is dying. He can’t be dying. We didn’t have enough time. We just wanted more time.
It’s ten days later and another picturesque April afternoon. My dog is dying, dying, dead. We didn’t have enough time.
How can the sky be so blue while my heart shatters inside my chest? The universe doesn’t care that he saved my life and it was my turn to save his. Entropy is pitiless and absolute. Hento was alive, and soft, and sweet, and kind, and now he’s gone.
He’s gone and it’s a beautiful day and we didn’t have enough time.
You know how occasionally people will say things like, “Make [x year] the year you get serious about your skincare regimen”? Well I decided to do that in July of 2019. I was in the middle of physical therapy for my degenerative disc disease and I was feeling like there was so much about my health and body that was out of my control, so at the very least I could do this one thing.
I renewed my commitment to drinking more water and I went out and bought facial cleanser and a decent moisturizer with SPF protection. May not sound like much, but you have to understand that until that moment my skincare regimen consisted of literally nothing. I stopped wearing makeup sometime in 2017 after my dog walking business picked up, because I was always just sweating it off anyway, and the only time I could ever remember to do anything to my face was when I would use a light floral toner to wipe my makeup off at the end of the day. No makeup => no toner wipedown before bed => no skincare routine at all.
It never mattered much that I do nothing to my face, because I always stayed out of the sun and I’ve generally just had quite nice skin — the one way in which I seem to have won the genetic lottery. However, by July 2019 it was definitely starting to show that I am a chronically dehydrated 40-something woman who now spends a fair amount of time outdoors.
So that was when I told myself I was going to be serious about skincare, as so many people constantly advised.
This may sound horrifying rather than like the triumph that it is, but I’d like to announce that on the very final day of 2020, I used up the last of that bottle of moisturizer. Only took me slightly less than a year and a half. That’s a big step up from previous attempts to regularly use a moisturizer, which have ended in the product drying out and having to be thrown away before I finished it.
I am beginning the new year with a new bottle of SPF moisturizer and the renewed commitment to drink more water. (And, you’ll be pleased to hear, I’ve actually gone through four bottles of the facial cleanser. I’ve gotten in the habit of using it in the shower.)
Thank you to everyone who is out here reminding the rest of us to take care of ourselves. It’s not only easy to forget, but it’s also easy to convince myself that I’m not worth the effort. You’re doing good work.
I’ve been composing a long year-end wrap-up post for the last hour and a half, but I just deleted the whole thing. 2020 is slippery and difficult to grasp and also, I finally realized, not worth the effort I was giving it.
It’s like this:
Fuck off, 2020. In a decade where every year has arguably been worse than the one before it, you really managed to take the entire cake.
A little more than four years ago, I walked to my neighborhood polling station and cast a vote for Hillary Clinton.
I had mixed feelings about the vote, because she hadn’t been my preferred candidate and because I had not been immune to the GOP’s twenty-year campaign to taint her in the public perception, but also I could hardly deny my feelings that it was well past time for a woman to be president and that she would do a respectable job of it. I was, like all decent people, disgusted by the vile personage that was her opponent, but despite my general pessimism I didn’t think he had a serious chance of winning. I thought surely not enough people would be taken in by the con. Surely the majority of people had to see that the most unqualified candidate in the history of the race was running against arguably the most qualified.
At the time, I had recently begun dating someone indescribably wonderful and I was certainly under the spell of new love. That’s how I account for my uncharacteristic optimism. I understood the danger posed by Donald Trump, but I believed we would pull together to reject him.
This was my face after waking up to the news on November 9th, 2016.
I knew they were there, and powerful, but I underestimated the Titan strength of misogyny and white supremacy in this country — a breathtaking reveal that has continued as an unrelenting assault since that day.
What followed over the course of the next four years was as turbulent and often grim in my personal life as it has been on the national scale. Silencingly so. The scale of what has been wrong these last four years has rendered me largely incapable of forming my own words about it except to exclaim in truncated horror in Tweet-sized blurts.
This blog post by Chuck Wendig, in its entirety, does a fine job of voicing much of what I feel but have been unable to articulate.
Two years ago today, I stood in front of a small gathering of friends and family and married the best man I’ve ever known. It was a breathtakingly beautiful moment in a total clusterfuck of a day.
About a month ago, knowing that this anniversary was approaching, I set out to write the story of our wedding, for posterity. The truth is that despite planning the event for one year and ten days, and it being a deliberately simple affair, factors beyond our control led to the thing being an almost total disaster. I’ve already started to gloss over parts of it in my memory in the course of trying to preserve only good feelings about the day, so it’s lucky I chose this year instead of two or three from now to set it all down.
But because the disaster of our wedding day began before the day itself, I’m going to have to go back a bit.
Holy mackerel, I know some truly wonderful people!
Two weeks ago, I saw this cute post from Guylty, a friend and fellow blogger of the Richard Armitage fandom persuasion. She has gotten into crafting some really impressive projects in the last few years and one of her latest masterpieces are these tiny, tiny book earrings.
Little Hobbit books!
Naturally I was charmed, given my special relationship with The Hobbit and also my lifelong love of miniature treasures, and I told her so. To my surprise and delight, she offered to send them to me as a much-needed pick-me-up. Heck yes! I’ve actually been thinking of them every day since she made the offer, wondering how quickly they could get here.
Can you believe they’re here already, all the way from Dublin?!
I always check the mail while I’m waiting for the hot water to boil for my late-morning tea, so this was a lovely little diversion to be able to sit down with at Saturday breakfast.
Inside I found this assortment of goodies. A really nice handmade Richard Armitage/Shakespeare postcard, the long-expected Hobbit earrings, and… something else? What could it be?
Another handmade envelope, this one intriguingly tiny. The postcard hinted at an additional surprise treat to make up for the fact that she’d had to reveal the secret of the Hobbit earrings by asking for my address. I love Guylty’s imagination, so I was keenly interested to see what lay inside this “extra surprise” envelope.
OMG! OMG OMG OMG! SHE MADE MINI BOOK EARRINGS OUT OF MY BOOKS THAT I WROTE!!! AND THEY LOOK SO GOOD!
I was so excited that I rushed upstairs to show my husband and promptly fumbled them all over the floor with my ecstatic hands. I LOVE THEM! Looks like I know now what I’m wearing at my book launch party! XD
THANK YOU SO MUCH, Guylty! You are creative, fun, extraordinarily talented, and a good friend! This delivery definitely gave my mood a lift! What great medicine for my soul.
I was given this orchid plant last October, as an anniversary present from my wonderful partner in crime. It had a number of exquisite blooms on it at the time, which started thinning and getting ready to fall right around Christmas. The last of them hung on until mid/late-January. I derived much joy from them in that time.
After the last flower fell, the flower spike itself soon began to wither. That, I concluded with fond regret, was apparently that.
The leaves of the plant still looked so shiny and deeply, vibrantly green. While the plant was brought into our home in order to provide a view of the orchid flowers which I love so much, I do also love leaves on their own merit. And these quite obviously still had some life in them. It seemed a shame to give up on them.
So I cut back the dead flower spike and continued to water the plant as normal through the winter.
In the spring, I noticed that while the plant was still chugging along, it was looking a little droopy. I’m basically an utter novice where it comes to plants, coming as I do from the desert where nothing grows unless it wants to, but it seemed to me that maybe it was overwatered? I cut down to two ice cubes a week from the recommended three. The plant rallied.
But then I noticed it was suffering another ailment: the leaves were drying and cracking. It was getting too much direct sun in the spot I’d been keeping it in. Oops. I wiped the leaves down with a wet towel and moved it again.
In the early days of summer, I made an observation that gave me a tiny thrill of satisfaction: new leaves! There were new leaves coming in! I was managing not only to not kill the plant, but to give it enough love to let it grow!
That satisfaction turned to giddy excitement one day when I saw something else happening to the orchid plant. A small green tendril of some kind was poking out from between the leaves. Never in my wildest dreams had I ever imagined that the plant might flower again under my care, so I thought this was probably a new bit of root. Still exciting, because it would mean life. But to be sure, I asked the internet. The internet told me that I would be able to tell a root from a flower spike by the shape on the end. The end of an orchid flower spike, apparently, has sort of a mitten-y shape.
WELL GUESS WHAT!
I dug out a stake and began coaxing that bad boy into an upward trajectory. As a complete and total flower novice I was surprised that apparently orchids try to grow straight out sideways, but I rolled with it. Every day, I would check its progress like a proud parent marking her child’s growth on the wall. It was a big day when I noticed what looked like the first bud forming. We eventually got six.
The house next door to mine has been empty for the last two years and something of a jungle has grown up on the property, swallowing the crumbling structure whole. I didn’t mind because it blocked the view and also, some wild Rose of Sharon hibiscus sprang up in the space between that property and mine. Lovely. The overgrowth was so intense that it actually blocked the morning light from coming directly in the northeast windows in my dining room, instead giving us nice diffuse sunlight on the dining table.
Because time and perfect lighting stand still for no man, the bank finally sent someone around to chop down the jungle and try to get that house ready for sale. Suddenly the orchid plant was getting blasted with direct sunlight first thing in the morning and the new buds started to sag. I had to scramble to find a new home for it where it was getting light, but not too much. Now it’s hanging out on the other side of the house in the living room, with all of the books.
I was a little worried about those sagging buds that had gotten the full sun blast, but they kept getting bigger and looking more and more like they were about to burst.
And then, yesterday,
How long would it take to see that turn into a flower, I wondered? I have no idea what I’m doing here. This has all just been a happy failure into success. But look what I woke up to this morning.
Maybe it seems silly to you that I would go on and on about one little orchid plant that has sprouted a single flower a year after it was given to me. And maybe it is silly. But maybe, also, this is about more than a plant. Maybe this is also about all of those years I spent dying in the desert where nothing grows unless it wants to, and how I don’t live there anymore because I escaped through epic struggle that didn’t end even after I made it to Pennsylvania.
Maybe it’s about salvaging life when it looks like that life is over. Maybe it’s about perseverance even where there’s no reason to think anything will come of it. Maybe it’s about changing the narratives we’ve come to accept about ourselves — “Oh, I can’t grow anything. I have a black thumb. Ha ha.” — and understanding that sometimes it’s personal growth and sometimes it’s about the environment we’re trying to survive in. Sometimes we just need to leave the desert.
Yesterday, looking at the last $62.36 in my bank account and the massive stack of hospital bills in front of me, I had a minor breakdown and put out a post asking for some help limping through this leg of the COVID-19 crisis. I never doubted that at least one friend or two would float me a little grocery money, because I know that I’m friends with some genuinely wonderful people who aren’t blowing smoke when they talk about wanting to help take care of their community.
I absolutely did not expect for twenty friends, acquaintances, and almost-strangers to throw enough money my way to easily cover the cost of groceries and prescriptions for the next three months. Holy crap.
It sounds trite, but I honestly cannot express how moved and grateful I am for the help. I feel loved, and now I have the peace and strength to stand up to another day of this nightmare. You’ve done a small miracle.
This is community. This is humanity. Thank you. All of you.
Due to the generosity and compassion of, like, everyone, my needs are taken care of for the time being. Thank you all for your assistance. Keep being wonderful.
Some of you have shared posts over the past few months stating some variation on the offer that if any of your friends are in need of help in the midst of all of this, they should not be afraid to ask you.
Well, this is me asking.
My work instantly stopped in March, with the lockdown. I’ve been limping along since then on the one government stimulus check, the generosity of one very lovely person just after my surgery in April, and what little I had in the bank, all while my medical bills have been piling up.
I’m about to enter a new billing period with nothing now left in the bank* and only $200 worth of contract work on the horizon (not to be paid out until September 14th.)
Jon still has work and has been keeping us afloat, but it’s not enough and frankly the pressure is crushing him. Obviously, I have no idea when things will pick back up for dog walkers like me. Quite probably not until next year. Who knows? And I am definitely not well enough to go out job hunting or work shifts at the sorts of jobs that are available right now even if I could get one of them. (Nor would it be safe for me to do so.)
So, yeah. I could really use some of that community support you’ve been talking about, if you’re still in a position to offer it.
I don’t have Venmo or Ko-fi or anything fancy like that. Just good old-fashioned PayPal at vulcanelf[at]gmail[dot]com or paypal.me/dogwoodhousellc. Every little bit would help me pay off another medical bill or buy my meds and groceries.
Thank you for reading this all the way through, and I hope you’re all weathering the nightmare that is 2020 better than I am. ❤
*Except Kickstarter money that belongs to the TRAJELON project, which is not for me to spend on my own personal expenses. I just want to assure everyone that the TRAJELON money is safe and secure and there are no worries about that.
You know what’s weird? Everything, right now. What’s somehow even weirder? That I still have a book coming out in three months, which is both the most surreal and most mundane thing, at a time when everything else is bonkers.
But there it is! I have a book coming out in three months, as you can see on this very spiffy countdown clock.
Not just any book, either. This one… is very special to me.
My first book, Mornnovin, came into being after many years and many drafts. The first time I started writing it, I was in elementary school. I always intended for it to be just the beginning of a series, but it took me a long time to resolve – out of all the possibilities – just what would come next. That makes sense, because I was young. I hadn’t yet figured out what I wanted or needed to say. At that point, I was just transcribing my favorite fantasy novels into my own universe.
That’s not to say I wasn’t racking up life experience. I was, in fact, racking up too much life experience. By the time my teen years rolled around, I was living in a soap opera at least partially of my own making. It was stupid. I was stupid. Then poof! hey presto! I was pregnant in high school, then marrying my rapist to raise our child together.
Everything I’d planned for my future vanished in the blink of an eye. The stories I had in me all turned dark. That year, I wrote a sequel to Mornnovin in which I was most definitely punishing myself for “ruining my life.” It was bleak, but it was what I needed to write at that time. I’m glad I never published it.
Time passed. Things changed, or didn’t. I grew up in some ways, clung stubbornly to immaturity in others. I stuck out my time in that terrible marriage, and got the hell out the minute my son and I had an escape route. It took eighteen years.
That was eighteen years with someone who, at best, thought of my writing as a waste of my time. Something annoying that pulled my focus away from him and housework, and gave me unrealistic ideas, and wasn’t even earning any money.
Free at last, and having just finished writing what would be the final version of Mornnovin, I set out into my new life with the goal of finally being able to give my writing career the earnest attention it deserved, now that I no longer had a judging naysayer hovering over me. I wrapped up final edits on Mornnovin in late 2015, took a short breather to work on my query materials, then started writing a new Trajelon in January of 2016.
I finished it only six months later.
My experiences over the previous years of living with my abuser – of surviving gaslighting, sexual and emotional abuse, crazymaking, constant manufactured drama and unnecessary financial hardship, my physical and mental health needs being minimized, watching my son suffer daily emotional trauma at the hands of his father, my identity being suppressed and warped to survive the toxic environment, and all of the accompanying depression and anxiety – gave me a different perspective than I’d had the first time I wrote Trajelon. Beyond simply feeling sorry for myself as I had all those years ago, I now had something to say about going through all of that and coming out the other side.
It was quick work to write, but not easy work.
All of this is a story that I’ve actually told before, but I wanted to add something to it today. If it sounds to you like Trajelon is probably going to be a huge downer to read, well. Maybe. Maybe it will be. Writing it was certainly difficult at times, when I would have to walk away and practice some gentle self-care before returning to the keyboard and putting myself back into the necessary headspace. I am lucky that I finally had the safety and space to do that. I recommend taking that approach while reading it too. But I do think, without any trace of ego, that it is an important story to have brought into the world. This is not torture porn; this is a story of survival. Of triumph against darkness, pain, and loss, and against those who would weaponize your own vulnerability and empathy to hurt you.
How many fantasy novels have you read that are about defeating your abuser and choosing to stand fast against your depression to fight for the hope that tomorrow will be better?
(Seriously, if there are others, point me to them. I’d like to read them too.)
It might sound odd to say that I’m excited about debuting a book of this character, but I am. It genuinely fills me with joy to know that in three months, this story will be born into the world for all to see. I kept my pain in for such a long time – a lonely, heavy burden. By setting it free, I deprive it of its power. I name it and sever its hold on me. I show the way to others carrying the same kind of pain. I give them the tools to take back their strength. That makes me incandescently happy.
I was excited to publish Mornnovin because that was me finally realizing my life-long dream of publishing a novel, any novel. Being a teller of fantasy tales, which is all I ever wanted to be when I grew up.
I’m excited to publish Trajelon because I truly feel that this story adds something necessary to the universal library. Writing it was arduous, often harrowing work, and every piece of it has been crafted with care; I’m proud of what I created. I can’t wait to share it with you.
Some time ago, I mentioned that my dog Hento saved my life and I wanted to tell you all about it. I actually wrote out the story in late April, but I didn’t post it at that time because I wanted to give it a proof-and-tweak first. Unfortunately, almost immediately after I wrote it, my recovery took a nosedive into the toilet and the resulting brain fog left me incapable of reading, much less proofing, anything of that length.
Now it’s so much later that parts of what I wrote are no longer completely accurate, but I like the idea of presenting the post as-is, like a time capsule; this is where I was on April 28th, 2020.
So, uh, apparently I had cancer?
I figure there’s no delicate way to come at that.
For a very long time now, I’ve had chronic pain and nebulous health issues that it just wasn’t really worth it to me to get into with a doctor. (Tried before, was ignored/gaslit/told to simply lose weight, no answers, moving target, comes and goes, periods of no/poor health insurance, I can live with it, so on and etc.) But the thing about meeting my fantasy dream husband and starting our life together is that suddenly my health and mobility matter in a way they never mattered before – to me and to the fantasy dream husband.
After the wedding in the fall of 2018, when I finally had health coverage again, he begged me to get serious about finding a doctor and getting to the bottom of things. I agreed but put it off a while longer while I concentrated on publishing Mornnovin.
But then, through a series of cascading escalations, my body insisted that I pay attention. By the end of summer 2019, I was deep into physical therapy for Degenerative Disc Disease while trying to figure out why I’m always tired and in pain, why my body doesn’t want to digest anything I eat, and what the heck continues to be wrong with my liver despite my never having been a drinker and eating a fairly “clean” diet for decades. Oh and also what was up with this big squishy thing on my thyroid that had suddenly decided to start getting bigger.
We did all the tests and ran all the scans, but as far as my larger chronic issues go, that’s still a great big shrug. So glad I wasted even more time and money on that for nothing.
The problem is that… we can’t really nail down the problem. Blood panels get mildly weird but non-explanatory results, while imaging continues to show nothing wrong. Yeah, my thyroid was getting bigger and had some obvious nodes, but function was okay-ish, by the numbers? And the molecular tests were inconclusive?
As 2019 wound down with no answers, still, and other things on my mind (holidays, work, finances, mental health and some interpersonal stuff, and the upcoming fundraising push for my second book,) I put the whole thing on the back burner again for a while. I’ve been living with chronic pain and tiredness since 1997; a few more weeks or months off from tests and doctor’s visits didn’t feel like that big a deal.
But that frigging thing in my neck.
All along, in the course of monitoring the thyroid issue, my PCP had been asking if it hurt or made it hard to breathe or swallow. The answer had always been no. But sometime in January, I realized that that had changed and I couldn’t say exactly when. She ordered yet another ultrasound. It was into February before I could get in for it. Then it took a few more weeks for the results to come in and for my doctor to get back to me. I missed the call, repeatedly. (I am literally never awake at 9 a.m., Doctor. I’m sorry. That’s just not my schedule.) I’m bad about returning phone calls because I hate them.
Abruptly, one night in late February, my dog Hento completely changed his bedtime routine.
While he is very pack-oriented and loves to snuggle and hang out no more than a couple feet from us at all times during the day, Hento has always been somewhat solitary after he comes back into the house from his bedtime potty trip into the yard. I’m not sure about his reasons – maybe it’s literally just because he’s got a massive coat and it’s always a few degrees cooler downstairs than it is up in the bedroom – but when he comes in at bedtime, he has a little drink, asks for a cookie, gives me an affectionate headbutt to the thigh, then settles down into his preferred sleeping space between the accent chairs and the coffee table in the living room. His den, I call it. He is truly, deeply, a creature of habit.
So I began to be alarmed by the sixth or seventh night of Hento coming in at bedtime, performing the rest of his goodnight routine, and then sticking on me like glue when I went back upstairs. Refusing to leave my side as I got ready for bed. Not even waiting for me to settle under the covers before jumping up onto the bed and stretching himself out along the length of my left side. Staying there sometimes all night if he could bear it, or relocating to the floor next to my side of the bed if it got too hot for him after a while.
Hento never jumps on the bed, and certainly doesn’t sleep there.
By the time he’d been doing this for three weeks, the thing in my neck was choking me in my sleep and I had to admit that it was time to be serious about returning my doctor’s calls. COVID-19 had already upended things, but she found a slot for me to come in within two days. I absolutely took that as an ominous sign.
The visit was brief and to the point: the most recent ultrasound had shown that the node was even bigger than the last time we’d looked at it, on October 29th. It was sitting right against my trachea. She didn’t like it. She’d consulted with an endocrinologist who also didn’t like it. They both agreed we needed to get that thing out of there. When I shared the news that the thing was now choking me at night, she was alarmed and adamant: get it out now.
Even with everything non-essential shutting down due to the pandemic? I asked her.
She was perfectly steady and insistent on the subject: yes. Immediately.
This news was… Well, I didn’t like it. I’m sure no one likes being told they need surgery, but I’m autistic and I need time to adjust to change. Not gonna lie, I spent a week or so shellshocked and trying to ignore the situation.
But Hento kept sleeping way up in my shit, night after night. Not just at the foot of the bed, where there was room. On. me.
Meanwhile, the bastard thing in my neck kept choking me. I developed a honking, irritated cough from the pressure against my trachea. In the age of COVID-19, try having a loud, persistent, dry cough. There is no one it doesn’t frighten – including yourself. But apparently, neither my scans, my doctor’s urgent referral, my described symptoms, nor the awful awful sound of my cough over the phone was enough to convince the ENT to even look at my case.
“Don’t you realize we’re in the middle of a pandemic?” the surgeon’s people snapped at my husband over the phone. I could hear the angry condescension from across the room. Of course we do. This is at her doctor’s orders. “We’re not scheduling anything, just because you think your wife’s situation is important.” Blink. Her thyroid is slowly choking her to death. “Sir, if your wife is really choking, tell her to go to the ER!”
Jon wants to call them back now that I’m safe and inform the nasty woman on the phone that it was cancer, you assholes. I can’t say I blame him. She was really terrible.
Obviously, I did not want to go to the ER, and much of the time I talked myself out of the urgency of the situation. I told myself it might not come to that, if I could just wait until services and healthcare were functioning more like normal again. Sleeping was dicey, but somehow I could handle the realities of choking in my sleep better than the vague prospect of turning up at the ER for them to do… what exactly? My thyroid and I were playing a game of chicken and I can be very stubborn indeed.
But Hento kept on me 24/7. And I mean this guy was really keeping an eye on me. There was no pretending that he wasn’t worried. After a particularly bad night, on April 7th, I decided to have mercy on his poor tender heart; I went to the ER.
That was exactly as weird and horrible as you might imagine turning up at the ER in the middle of the COVID-19 lockdown to be – with a strange cough to boot. We were intercepted in the parking lot by people swathed in head-to-toe PPE, who screened me and told Jon to wait in the car. I passed through several layers of interrogations where I had to assure those asking that my cough was definitely not COVID-19 before they would let me further into the system. Every time I had to stop to cough because of the irritation to my trachea, I was scrutinized with suspicion. Finally, they ran some tests but ultimately declined to admit me because I did not meet their tightened criteria. (Plus side, we do now have a very nice CT scan of the DDD in my neck.) They did, however, send me off with a fresh list of different ENTs to try calling, if the first one was refusing to see me.
I guess there’s something about the aura of saying you’re calling from an ER referral, because we finally hit paydirt – an ENT willing to speak to me and even schedule a tele-visit. Even luckier, after this guy looked at my scans, he didn’t like them either.
Even so, he wasn’t optimistic that the OR scheduler would put me down any time soon, just because of resource allocation as healthcare in Pennsylvania braced itself for the outbreak. He absolutely did want to get the chokey thing out of my neck as soon as possible, he just couldn’t say when that would be. He advised me to hunker down and manage my symptoms as well as I could and he’d try to get back to me before the end of the month. Two days later, on April 9th, I got a phonecall asking if I could do surgery on the 16th.
Holy crap when things start moving they really move. Honestly, that gave me some emotional whiplash that kept me dazed just about until the day of surgery. (Which was three days after my birthday, by the way. I know just about everyone has had a weird birthday experience in 2020, but that was extra.)
To abruptly end an already long story, the surgeon was planning to remove only the left thyroid lobe, but when he got in there he ended up taking it all. Everything. The whole thyroid and a couple of nearby lymph nodes to be safe. It looked bad, I guess. The pathology report, a few days later, confirmed his instincts.
How do I feel about this?
Well, we’ve already followed the recommended course of treatment for this type of cancer: full thyroidectomy. That’s that, case closed. So honestly, I just feel vindicated after the first surgeon’s office implied I was being an attention-seeking drama queen trying to tie up needed resources during an international health crisis.
Also, enlightened. That’s why Hento was so freaked out. Cancer’ll do that. Dogs have amazing sniffers.
Trying not to get up in my feelings about having an ongoing condition now (no thyroid) that will require medication for the rest of my life.
I’m still dealing with some choking for the moment, unfortunately, as I wait for the swelling to go down. But at least now I know I will stop choking. I don’t have to be scared anymore that the thing in my neck might squeeze the life out of me while I’m sleeping. And Hento can relax.
He slept on me when I came home from the hospital all woozy and sporting a nasty neck wound, and he slept on me the two nights after that. But I am pleased to report that apparently I’m now healthy enough for Hento to be back to spending the night in his little den in the living room between the accent chairs and the coffee table. That’s how you know I’m on the mend.
Really, I only wrote all of this out because I wanted you to understand that Hento saved my life. I absolutely would have kept pretending that the thing in my neck wasn’t that big a deal and would have tried to wait it out until it killed me. Hento was the one who convinced me I was really in trouble. Dogs don’t know how to bullshit you, not about stuff like this.
He was scared, and he told me so, and I’m cancer-free today because I listened to him.
Whew, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? I wish I could say it’s because I’ve been out here tearing it up and living my best life, but that would be the utter opposite of the truth.
In reality, in June my post-surgical recovery ran into a ditch big enough for a megalodon to peacefully nap in, and I’ve been spending all of my energy each and every day trying to claw my way back up and out. There was even an ER visit.
I also wish I could say that I’ve tenaciously continued to do the pre-publication work that needs to get done before the book launch in November, but that would be a gross exaggeration of what I’ve actually been able to manage during the last two and a half months. I mean, some things that needed to get done have been done. At the very least, I am now sitting on a hoard of physical copies of Trajelon like a particularly nerdy dragon.
So there’s that.
And, hey, absent being able to manage any of the heavy mental lifting necessary to do promotion, I did finally get around to creating a merch shop for branded Asrellion and Dogwood House swag. There’s still a lot I want to add to it, but I’d been meaning to just make the shop for a long time and kept getting distracted by other things, so it’s nice to have taken the plunge. If any of you happen to have a favorite line of dialogue or something like that you’d wear on a shirt, let me know and I’ll think about incorporating it into the shop.
Also, requiring no additional work from me, the Kirkus reviews for both Mornnovin and Trajelon are in. The reviewer loved Mornnovin. As for Trajelon, I feel the review neglected to mention certain critical aspects. It paints a somewhat breezy picture of the action, and for the sake of covering my own butt I want you to go in completely forewarned that this is an adult-rated novel with dark themes.
But hey, I’ve got a blurb for the release poster!
I’m maybe? starting to get my recovery back on track (knock on wood), and there are wonderful people trying to help me with the pre-launch work I haven’t been able to manage myself. The paperbacks, as I said, are already here. One way or another, to greater or lesser fanfare, this book is coming out on November 24th. (If the world hasn’t utterly imploded by then. I guess I shouldn’t dare 2020 by speaking with too much certainty about the future.)
Thank you for being patient with me and for believing in my stories! Please keep talking them up if you can wherever possible. I need all the help I can get driving interest in the world of Asrellion before the release, since I’m decidedly not up to the big marketing push I’d hoped and planned to do.
And remember: Hento loves you and wants you to stay safe.