Female Troubles

Maybe there is such a thing as womens’ work.

I had a doctor’s appointment recently—a long overdue physical at my Pasadena-based internist’s. It’s not a great practice, and the doctor, a broad, pink man of great bulk and humorlessness, is far from a whiz at his job. But it’s clean, convenient, and suffices for my basic check-ups.

In the past, the female nurse practitioner there performed any PAP smears I’d needed. I hadn’t had one last time, though, and I knew I couldn’t put it off again.

So, when the rest of my exam was done, I told Dr. Bland as much.

He was facing away from me at the moment, putting an instrument away. I thought I saw his back, clad in a white medical jacket, twitch. For a moment he froze, then he turned and said,

“A —I’m sorry?”

“A PAP smear. You do those, right?”

He hesitated, his expression fixed. “The nurse isn’t here today. Can you come back when she is?”

I frowned. This place was sort of far. I really didn’t want to make another trip.

“I’d prefer to do it now. Is that—can you do it?”

There was a beat. He cocked his head in an odd way, as if he was trying to recall a long-lost song lyric, then said “Sure.”

He told me he’d be right back. His large body moved with surprising swiftness as he left the examination room.

I leaned over and grabbed my phone out of my purse, my paper dress susurrating against my arms. I’d barely begun to check my texts when the doctor was back, a female receptionist in tow.

“Oh, hi,” I said to her, like it was a question.

“She’s here to observe,” the doctor said gruffly as he rooted in a drawer for a speculum. “Or help. Abby, we’re going to try…a….PAP smear, here.”

I shot Abby a glance. She smiled wanly and looked down at her feet.

“Is everything OK?” I asked the room in general. Neither of them would make eye contact with me.

Abby reached over and pulled the stirrups out of the table with a clang.

“It’s fine,” she said.

Dr. Bland strode across the room and yanked a tissue from a dispenser. Folding it carefully, he used it to mop his brow, then dropped it into a sterile bin.

“Right, here we go,” he said, in a falsely jovial tone. “I said a little prayer out there, so it’s all going to be OK.”

I half sat up, which isn’t easy when your feet are in stirrups. “You what?”

He chuckled. “I had to pray. I haven’t done one of these in a while. Maybe a year or two. And I’ve got these darn new glasses. The distance…well, the cervix sits right in the blurry spot.”

The blurry spot.

“But we’ll be fine.”

He pulled on a rubber glove with a snap.

I know. That was when I should have left. But when your feet are in stirrups and two strangers are staring into your “blurry spot” it’s hard to make good choices.

I leaned back slowly and tried to relax as the doctor first lubricated and then inserted the speculum. It felt normal, which is to say, weird and extremely uncomfortable.

Abby watched quietly, shifting from foot to foot, as Dr. Bland adjusted the instrument. I would’ve killed to know what she was thinking. Or maybe not.

Moving his face down to the speculum, Dr. Bland peered in. There was a long silence. I winced slightly as it moved, shifted once more, and then opened. It’s a yucky feeling that you never quite get used to; fortunately it’s over quickly.

Usually, that is. But not this time. The seconds ticked by, and then the minutes, and the room remained completely, funereally quiet. Abby stared at her arm hairs. I stared at the ceiling. Dr. Bland stared at my groin.

Finally I couldn’t take it. I crooked my head up again. “How’s it going down there?”

He grunted. “I’m just—“ the speculum shifted again, and I gasped slightly. “Sorry, sorry. I’ve almost…got it….”

Again, the silence. Craning my neck, I could see sweat droplets forming on the doctor’s head. It was cold in the room. I lay my head back, resigned. I’d never leave this table. We were here forever, the doctor, Abby, and me. Like “No Exit,” but with cramping.

And then, all in one quick movement, Dr. Bland withdrew the speculum. He straightened his posture and looked at me sheepishly.

“I’m sorry,” he said, shaking his head. ” You’ll have to come back when the nurse is here.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Why?”

“I couldn’t find it.”

“Find what?”

“Your cervix,” he said apologetically. “It’s doing something strange.”

I scratched my head. There was an awkward pause. “That’s odd.”

“I found part of it…” he said, as if this should console me.

I nodded, waiting for more. Had the other half gone missing? Maybe eloped with one of my ovaries?

He pulled off his gloves and tossed them in the trash.“I got almost all the way there, but…no. Not close enough. You’ll have to come back.”

It was quiet again. I could tell he was embarrassed; I didn’t want to make him feel worse. Plus, we women are at such a disadvantage in these situations. Privates front and center. We can’t exactly get sassy.

I pulled my feet out of the stirrups and swung my legs off the table.

“I’ll make an appointment with the nurse,” I said evenly, smoothing the paper across my knees.

“Good idea. Sorry again,” Dr. Bland said, as he shot me a grimace and lumbered out of the room.

I turned to look at Abby, hoping, perhaps, for a moment of solidarity. No such luck. The receptionist busied herself tidying, then muttered “I’ll get your bill ready” and hurried out of the room.

As I got dressed, I wondered what on earth I had been thinking. I should have fled at the first moment of weirdness. From now on I’d only go to women for this woman’s job.

And a week or two later I made an appointment at a birthing center, where a young, knowledgeable midwife not only found my cervix, but showed it to me in a mirror. Perhaps, having heard my story, she wanted to prove it was there. I felt like taking a picture of it for Dr. Bland.  I could post it on Yelp. Next to his no-star review.

Going forward I’m voting with my dollars. I’m switching to a doctor who knows female anatomy. So birthing center? I’ll be back. Dr. Bland? Only in my nightmares.

By the way, the first thing that midwife said to me when I lay down on the examination table in her pretty pastel office?

“We don’t do stirrups here—I hope that’s OK.”

I knew right then I was home.

Tell Me No Lice

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse.

About a week ago I noticed that my head was itchy. Like, crazy itchy. Particularly around the nape of the neck. This was concerning, as lice had been going around the first grade at MJ’s school for awhile. We’d dodged it so far, but I knew that couldn’t go on forever.

I checked with MJ to see if she was feeling it, too.

“Yes!” She replied. “It’s been driving me crazy forever.”

I looked at her with an alarmed expression. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

She shrugged, and turned back to her game. She’s created a whole imaginary land in a corner called “Fairyarea.” I find her there muttering and singing all the time. There’s something vaguely demonic about it, but also cute.

MJ was off school, and Mike was planning on taking her to work with him. Let them go, I thought. I’ll check my head when they leave. Probably just being paranoid…I’m sure we’re all fine.

Amazing that I could still believe that about anything, but denial is a powerful force.

They left; I showered, and broke open a lice comb I’d purchased months ago. It only took a couple of passes to find that, indeed, I had them. Lice. Because apparently a cockroach infestation and an electoral apocalypse weren’t enough for one early autumn.

When I was done swearing I called Mike. “We have lice,” I announced. “Or I do. Which means that MJ does. And probably you, too.”

There was a surprisingly long silence on the other end. Like, a one-man Quaker meeting. Finally Mike sighed.

“Okay.”

“Don’t panic,” I said. “I’ll come get her and take her to the salon. You’ll have to come, too.”

The salon I was referring to was Hair Angels, one of several lice removal places in the L.A. area. Hair Angels does no cuts, no blowouts, no dye-jobs. It’s just four unflappable women at pink stations banging lice combs into bowls of water. And, lest you think this is too small of a niche for a business, they’re busy all the time. We’ve been there twice for false alarms in the past; there’s always a crowd.

We headed there that afternoon. And it did, indeed, turn out that MJ and I had lice. Mike, even with his long hair, did not.

“The dads almost never get it,” my technician said matter-of-factly. “Doesn’t matter if they have long hair or short. Lice just don’t like ’em.”

“Typical,” I muttered, as she pulled another section of my hair through her comb.

MJ and I were there for over two hours, but when the treatment was done the lice were gone.

“Just like that?” I said.

Our gal laughed and nodded. “Just like that.”

Curious, I asked how long she thought we’d had them.

“You, not so long,” she said. Then she jacked her elbow towards MJ, who was now muttering over an ad-hoc Fairyarea in the waiting room. “She’s had ’em for about two weeks.”

My eyebrows shot upwards. “Two weeks?”

She nodded and shrugged. “Sometimes it’s hard to know until you’re fully infested.”

Once I was done being grossed out I did the math and realized that two weeks prior would have brought us to…election day. How ironic. And how perfectly fitting. Why wouldn‘t the worst day of my life also involve household pests?

But with a bit of time I’ve decided that the lice were a blessing. First of all, they pulled me out of my slough of despond. You can’t mope on the couch all day when the furniture has to be vacuumed. You can’t lie on the floor in a fetal position when there’s eight loads of laundry to do. You can’t stay in bed when all the bedding needs to be washed. You have to get up. You have to get busy. You have to deal.

Because lice suck, but they’re treatable. They have to be addressed; they can’t be ignored. But the idea of them is worse than the reality. Because the idea is that they’re impossible to defeat. The reality is, we have the knowledge, the expertise, and the equipment. We have Hair Angels. We know how to eradicate them. So, one nit at a time, we do.

This is true, I tell myself, for many kinds of unpleasant phenomena. Fear is the greatest enemy. It makes things seem unbeatable that aren’t; immobility ensues. Hysteria is unhelpful; footwork is all-powerful. Most infestations can be cleared; patience is critical, perseverance, too.

And vigilance, as any Hair Angel will tell you, is the absolute key. So I, for one, will be keeping my lice comb handy.

img_4144

Fear Factor

Not to be a spoil sport, but I’m glad Halloween is over. There’s too much fear in the air as it is, without adding zombies, vampires, and a bunch of homemade Pikachus to the mix. Not to mention the scarier stuff, like the slasher victims, Evil Clowns, and Headless Men. I mean, Jesus. When did Halloween get so dark? And I’m not talking Daylight Savings, either. It’s starting to feel like a low budget horror film out there. With a bunch of overly zealous production designers and waaaaay too many extras.

Or maybe it’s the same as always, and I’m just seeing it through my kid’s eyes. MJ hates scary stuff. She was a Mermaid this year. Mermaids don’t kill anything. Except for maybe fish, and that’s debatable. They’ve got to live on something, I suppose, but seaweed probably suffices, as long as they chew it really well.

Whatever the case, my daughter’s Mermaid was definitely of the non-violent type. She had a beautiful, high crown, shells on her “bra,” and a long, shiny, blue fin. No fangs, no blood, no entrails. When MJ marched in her school’s Halloween parade she looked many things—proud, happy, slightly clumsy—but scary wasn’t one of them. Unless you were kelp.

In other years she’s chosen equally harmless costumes: a horseshoe crab, a puppy, a skunk. (OK, skunks aren’t harmless, per se, but as long as you give them space they’re fine. Not something you can say about Jason or Freddy.) Once she was a Nature Fairy and  looked disturbing, but that was because she painted herself green, like a flu victim.

I wish I’d told MJ’s teacher about her fear-averse nature before Halloween came around. She decided to kick October off with a reading of “age appropriate” ghost stories. One of them, a tale of a girl with a severed head held on by a purple ribbon, sent MJ into paroxysms of fear. She cried for hours after hearing it, and hasn’t been able to sleep well since.

“I keep seeing those pictures in my mind,” she’ll say to me at three in the morning when she calls me from my room.

“What pictures, my love?” I ask, whispering hoarsely.

“Of the ribbon girl.”

I inwardly curse her teacher, like an underslept sailor, and imagine, for one moment, beating her on the head and shoulders with her “age appropriate book.”

Then I take a breath. “There’s no ribbon girl. That story is made up. Those things don’t happen.” I try to sound cheerful, without being unduly perky. It is, after all, three AM.

Myra-Jean clings to me pathetically. She cries some more. And then ends up in our bed.

If only we could afford private school.

Anyway, I’m thrilled to see November come. No more cockroaches, nor falcon parties, no decapitated lasses trussed like chickens…

Except…oh, God. In six days…deep breaths. Deep breaths.

Well, December could be nice.There’s Christmas to look forward to…

We’ll wrap without ribbons, of course.

IMG_4010.jpg

 

Fondant Memories

The next time I agree to spend three figures on a birthday cake, someone douse me with ice water.

But that’s what happens when you combine a weird party theme, no time, and a bit of extra money.

Unable to find a professional falconer to give a talk, or a “bird guy” with a folding table and a few parakeets, or even a teenager in a bird costume, I decided to splurge on, well, the pastry. If we couldn’t have a live falcon we’d have the best fondant version you’d ever seen. On a custom made theme cake! From a highly-Yelp-rated bakery! Sure, their quote was astronomical, but they delivered! Plus, the local grocery store didn’t do raptors on their sheet cakes. No one did. I wasn’t in a position to haggle.

A huge price tag. A cake ordered sight unseen. Fifty people in a park. How could it go wrong?

“It’s a little small,” Mike told me on the phone when the cake arrived. It was the day before the party–I was at work, trying to sell yellow diamonds to people who really had money to burn.

“What do you mean, small?” I asked irritably, mouthing “just a minute” to my customers with a forced smile.

“I mean, it’s small. We may need a backup dessert.”

I felt my cortisone levels start to rise. “That makes no sense.”

I hadn’t told Mike how much I’d spent on the cake, and I didn’t intend to. I quickly changed tack. “Is it gorgeous, at least?”

I imagined something ornate and intricate. A skyscape, perhaps, with clouds, a vast mountain range. Stunning falcons soaring majestically over wide savannas. One diving, perhaps, towards a tiny rabbit on the buttercream “ground.” Multiple tiers, some scattered trees. A small village, stonework, haystacks–

“It’s…cute.”

I didn’t like his tone, inflected, as it was, with forced positivity.

“It should be amazing.”

There was a long pause. Mike cleared his throat. “Anyway. We might want to bake some cookies for the grownups.”

I took a deep breath. Stay calm. Mike tends to see the glass half empty. It’s probably fine. A work of art. And plenty big. Even if it’s not, kids don’t eat a lot of cake. They just rub their faces with frosting and then run amuck, like dogs with roadkill.

But that night, when I took the cake out of the fridge, I saw that Mike was right. It’s design, such as it was, was minimalist. Two falcons and a mountain. Period. Neither bird was flying—one was perched on a branch and the other was standing with his arms behind him, which is anatomically absurd. MJ had added a playmobile person and a toy hawk to the top to”dress it up” a bit. This irritated me unreasonably. For that much money additional set dressing shouldn’t have been necessary.

And it was tiny! I calculated the price of each slice in my head. Jesus. I may as well have just taken the kids to the Russian Tea Room. Including flights. We were looking at, like, thirty dollars a bite, here. I should trade a slice for a trip to Cabo.

I turned to Mike. “I’ve been had.”

He nodded kindly. “Looks tasty, though.”

“We’ll never know, will we?” I grumbled, stalking to the refrigerator to get butter out. I had cookies to bake.

It turned out the cake was good, and, thanks to the paper-thin slices Mike cut, there was even a tiny bit left for us to try. Everyone liked the decorations. MJ got a slice with mountain on it; it was her special treat.

I kept the cake’s cost to myself, of course, so no one laughed uncontrollably or yelled “suckah!” That was my special treat.

Still, next time I’m going to Vons and getting a plain sheet cake. It turns out MJ has a real talent for decorating, and God knows she has enough plastic birds and Playmobile people to populate an entire continent of pastries.

I’m hoping by next year, though, she’ll have moved on from falcons. They command too high a price tag, both materially and emotionally.

And clearly I can’t be trusted with a credit card when birthday time rolls around.

IMG_3840.jpg

 

The Widening Gyre

The roaches appear to be gone. We haven’t seen one in over a week; and have begun using the dishwasher again without mishap. It’s a slow journey back to recovery for some of us–OK, for me. I still jump backwards every time I open a drawer, shriek at the stray  raisin, and squeal at every shadow, but at least I’m in the kitchen. And cooking, even. After a month of eating takeout Whole foods salads and microwaved Trader Joe’s burritos, it’s nice to have home cooked food again. Although I did enjoy the burritos profusely. I could eat one for every meal and be pretty much fine.

I’m a routine eater, like my child. Left to my own devices, I’ll eat the same thing over and over again, happily, for years on end. When Mike and I started dating I had one type of food in my kitchen: an obscure brand of organic turkey chili. Of course, I had enormous quantities of it, but that’s because I ate it for pretty much every meal. I used to clear the shelves of it at Whole Foods. Until Mike and I started dating. At that point I slowed down on my consumption, and soon after discovered that Whole Foods had stopped carrying it. I soon realized that I, and I alone, had been keeping that chili company in business. It was hard to contemplate the jobs lost, the lives disrupted, simply because my love life had taken a turn for the better, but it’s a guilt I’ve learned to live with.

I digress. The point is, I could eat TJ’s burritos for every meal, but because the roaches are gone I don’t have to. It’s luxurious to have the choice. Plus, Mike would rather shoot himself in the hand with a nail gun than eat a frozen burrito for dinner once, let alone ten times; if we’re going to dine together, I have to be willing to expand my menu.

Speaking of expanding menus, I forgot to give Mina her Frontline last month, and now she’s infested. This means that in the last month we’ve had roaches, ants, and now fleas. All of them killed with pesticides. This makes me wonder, first, if we’re going to get cancer, and second, if some new type of bug is going to come into our house to eat all of the insect corpses we’re generating. I really can’t think about this, though, because I’m too busy worrying that MJ is going to get bitten by a flea and come down with the plague.

When I don’t think about that I dwell on Donald trump and become sick with fear.

And when I’m not incapacitating myself thusly? I’m planning MJ’s 7th birthday party.

This is a source of stress, too, as she’s decided she wants to have a “falconing” theme. What this means, in her little, curious, brain, is that she and her friends will hold stuffed birds, wear gloves, and run after “flesh-colored” bags filled with “carrion candy.”

What it means to me is planning hell. Let me tell you, falcon-related party favors are not a thing. There are no falcon plates, cups, or napkins. No falcon toys. No falcon anything. Google falcon party. You’ll see. Get ready for a lot of Angry Birds.

I went to Michael’s today to find flesh colored bags. There I thought for sure I’d at least find some falcon stickers to put in with the candy. After all, Michael’s has stickers in every possible theme: beer, Ireland, dalmatians, snorkeling! But not, it turns out, a single bird sticker of any kind. Except for owls. Since bringing owl stickers to a falconing party is sort of like bringing a kielbasa to a PETA brunch that’s not going to help.

I decided to try my luck in the plastic toys section. There I found packages of dinosaurs, fish, horses, kittens, even vegetables! Vegetables? Surely there would be a falcon set. Or at least a bird of prey collection. Eagles? Birds of any kind? A god damned chicken? Nothing.

So, aside, from the “find the flesh bag” game, plus an amorphous activity called “pin the falcon on the glove,” we’ve got nothing. I did, though, find a bakery that will make me a falcon cake–for an indecent, breathtaking amount of money. The sort of John-Edward’s-Haircut amount that would quickly take down my career if I were a politician.

Other than the cake, though, this party is going to be about as falcony as a DAR potluck. Which is to say, not at all. Hopefully the kids will bring their imaginations, because they’re going to need them.

In the meantime? I am dreaming of “days after.” The day after the party, the day after the election, and maybe—should Trump win—the day after the apocalypse, when the roaches will emerge from their hiding places, nibble on falcon cake, and say “who needs a theme? We own it all!”

IMG_3828.JPG

 

 

Roach Trip

Day 21.

It’s been exactly a week since Corky’s came for their “follow up” appointment. Since then we’ve seen only three or four roaches, all dead. Or mostly all–one was doing a pretty convincing zombie imitation, but he became dead quite fast. After Mike smashed him with a paper towel, that is.

And for the last three days, nothing. Dead or alive.

Except for the imaginary roaches. Pesticides, apparently, don’t work on those.

This invasion has clearly taken a toll on my mental health. Now that the real roaches seem defeated, I’m seeing phantoms everywhere–in the cabinets, on my leg, in the bath mat, at the park. I’m like that guy from “A Beautiful Mind,” but with little brown bugs. Who don’t talk. But still. I’m haunted by the specter of these horrible insects, and God only knows when it’ll stop.

Just the other morning, for example, while getting MJ’s lunch together for school, I saw two giant specimens on her snack bag and shrieked at the top of my lungs. They turned out to be pictures of bees. That had always been there. Mike and MJ got a good laugh out of that one, and understandably enough. My anxiety can be quite comical.

But I could tell this morning when I screamed at a hair clip under the toaster that my freak-outs are wearing thin. Even MJ is rolling her eyes. And Mike? He’s going to have me committed. If only Corky’s had a spray for that.

Maybe things will improve when we finally use the dishwasher. Which we can, in theory. Mike has done his checks for days now and found nothing. Still, neither of us can bring ourselves to turn it on. Too soon.

Not to mention, if I’m seeing roach ghosts where roaches have never roamed, imagine what I’ll see when I go back to the scene of the crime. I’m not sure my heart can take it. Or my family’s ears.

So there’s the conundrum: I’ll feel better when we’re using the Bosch again, and I can’t use the Bosch again until I feel better.

Welcome to being in my head.

But not in my dishwasher. Maybe next week.

img_3809

 

 

The Battle of the Bosch

It’s all come down to the dishwasher.

Ironic that this, our highest-end appliance, the one I swore would change my life when we upgraded from our Soviet-era clunker, has become the final holdout of our entomological invaders. Bosch dishwashers may be rated four-and-a-half stars on Amazon, but it turns out they get an abysmal score for being pest-repellent. To the contrary, roaches, like everyone else, seem to prefer German design, for we are now seeing the little bastards there, and there only.

“It’s the warmth and the moisture,” Dave explained when I called him about it. “Totally normal, to be expected.”

If we live in a world where it’s normal to open the dishwasher and see roaches racing across the silverware tray then sign me up for intergalactic travel now. Because I am out of here.

We’ve stopped using the thing, of course. Except as a giant roach motel. Twice a day, now, Mike grabs a paper towel, approaches the Bosch, opens it quickly, and kills any roaches he sees. I, meanwhile, get as far across the house as I can and enter a mewling fetal position until he’s done.

“How many today?” I ask, my head still between my armpits.

Mike likes to preface his answer with the word “sadly.”

“Sadly, one,” he’ll say. Or “Sadly, two.”

We haven’t had more than that yet; he’ll have to come up with a stronger adverb if we do. “Horrifically” would work. “Catastrophically” sums it up nicely, too.

What is sad to me is that we don’t have none. Abandoning the rest of the house, the roaches have dug in to this final stronghold. Strategically speaking I suppose it’s good–we’ve got them surrounded, like the Romans were at Cannae. But our foes are better defended; the Romans weren’t encased in steel.

In my darker moments I wonder if we’ll ever get them out. Assuming this is a siege, they could go on in there for years, living off of the crumbs in the filter and the moisture in the bottom of the drain. Roaches, after all, can survive for months on a single drop of water. The average enemy can’t. We may be looking at a new Empire, here. And all run out of my long-coveted appliance!

Tomorrow, thankfully, is Corky’s follow-up visit. It can’t come soon enough. Especially since Dave won’t get on the phone with me anymore. I think he’s burning out. I know I am. I need my kitchen back. I need my dishwasher. I need my life.

And who knows? I may need siege engines.

In the meantime? We’re cleaning our plates by hand, keeping the kitchen spotless, and praying for a turn in the battle.