You Know You’re at a Plastic Surgery Meeting When…

My friend Dawn and I recently attended an evening meeting of the Houston Society of Plastic Surgeons.  Since we were invited guests, and not plastic surgeons, we didn’t stop on the way into the lovely formal dining room to pick up our name badges because the organizers had not made them for us.  On the way out, however, we both noticed clear plastic perfectly formed oval objects sitting on the table, looking for all the world like crystal paper weights.  I picked one up and it slithered out of my hand, slippery as a water balloon.  It was then that I realized that the beautiful paper weight was indeed, a silicone breast implant made by the company that sponsored the dinner.  After all, what do you expect when you attend a gathering of the plastic surgery clan?

I have learned in medicine to expect the unexpected.  The reason that I got in my car and drove 970 miles from Santa Fe to Houston was that my father, now nearly 91 years old and an emeritus Professor of Plastic Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, had been asked to give several lectures as a visiting Professor for the residents and fellows in training.  Several is a bit of an understatement.  He was actually asked to give five separate talks, including three on consecutive days at 6:30 am, because as we know, surgeons start their days early.  After assuring Dad that I would not be getting up to attend ANY 6:30 am lectures, I set out for Houston in the midst of some of the worst rainstorms and flooding seen in that town in over thirty years.  Dad has had to curtail his practice over the last few years due to significant health issues, and when he came down with a bad cold days before the trip, I tried to no avail to convince him to stay home.  He of course wouldn’t hear of it.

His assignment for the evening lecture last Thursday night was to talk about his surgical missions overseas to repair cleft lips and palates, other birth defects, and contractures due to severe burns and other injuries. Especially since he retired from active practice, he has participated in several trips a year with Surgicorps International, traveling to Guatamala, India, Bhutan, Viet Nam, Zambia and other countries to attempt to give a normal appearance, and thus a normal life, to those unfortunate enough to require his services.  Devoted parents travel great distances to wait all day for their children to be evaluated, and once the schedule is set, surgeries proceed for the next 7 to 10 days, twelve hours a day, until the work is done.  Dad methodically showed the construction of each trip, from soliciting donations, to transporting equipment, to evaluating prospective patients, to post-operative care. At the end of his talk, he showed a blurry photograph of a 43 year old man who had lived his entire life with a severe facial deformity.  He told us that when the patient woke up in the recovery room, the first thing he asked for was a mirror.  When he saw his own face, swollen from surgery, but yet distinguishable as a normal human face, this patient burst into tears.  As my father told the story, everyone in the room did the same.

Plastic surgeons often get a bad rap.  In our youth driven, appearance conscious world, it is all too easy to make jokes about their bread and butter cosmetic work—the breast implants, the face-lifts, the nose jobs, and the botox.  At dinner last Thursday night, my friend and I, and the residents in the room, were privileged to catch a glimpse of what these talented surgeons can do to change the life of a child, and that child’s family and future.  The residents in the room are lucky—in a few years they too will have the skills to give the gift of a normal appearance and normal function.  As for me, well, I think it’s time to get back to work treating cancer patients.

It’s Been Awhile

Back in late September, my friends asked me if I was worried about the upcoming move to New Mexico.  I replied, no, it would be a piece of cake compared to my earlier cross country move from Boston to California.  After all, in 1993, I said goodbye to our babysitter of nine years and packed up three kids, a dog and a cat to move to a city where I did not know a single soul.  I will never forget walking into the principal’s office at our new elementary school, filling out the registration forms, and realizing that for the first time ever in my life, I had not a single name to fill in the blank space which said “Who to contact in case of an emergency.”  I was starting from scratch.

As it happens, I had seriously underestimated the effort required to detach from a home I lived in for seventeen years, from my accumulated belongings and from my youngest son and my elderly father, neither of whom desired to join me on my journey.  As sentimental as I am, it was impossible to merely throw things away—old photographs had to be examined and scanned, stuffed animals and dolls needed to be hugged one last time, old movie ticket stubs and playbills needed to reawaken memories before being tossed.  Each time I carried a large green trash bag out of the house, the closets, nooks and crannies seemed to refill themselves.  In the end, I ran out of time, and the movers packed what was left, which amounted to an entire moving van filled with our furniture, and over 300 boxes.  My culling was not very successful.

My biggest concern about the move itself was how my four dogs, especially elderly Magic in congestive heart failure, would handle the displacement, the two day 1,000 mile road trip and climb to 7000 feet in altitude, and the uncertainties of new territory.  As it turned out, the one that I worried about most surprised me with what appeared to be a new lease on life—clearly the cooler crisper mountain air seemed to rejuvenate him.  It was the little guy, Yoda, my tiny rescued Chihuahua-terrier mix that had some unexpected issues.

Yoda was picked up as a stray in Oakland, CA two years ago at Christmas time.  Starving and loaded with tapeworm, he jumped into the arms of a good Samaritan who stopped traffic on Fremont Avenue to pick him up. My veterinarian friend there made a search for an owner, but when none came forth she neutered him, wormed him and sent him down to me.  He quickly adjusted to life with the three jolly grey giants.  Playful and loving, he never met a soul he didn’t like and never caused us a moment of trouble–until the move.

For the first time ever, on arriving in New Mexico, Yoda suffered from severe separation anxiety.  When either my husband or I would leave the house, he would cry piteously and endlessly, despite the fact that the other of us was still there, along with his Scottish deerhound buddies. He was inconsolable. Amidst the doggy distress, fear and consternation, one thing became clear to me—at some point in his short life, he had been left behind.  And he did not want it to happen again.

Yoda has settled down now and he knows that if we leave the house we are coming back.  But his little trauma has left me with a New Year’s wish for us all:   Be brave!  Make a change.  Take a short trip, or a long journey, with your best friends and your family.  Yoda wants what we all want in our own way–to live, love and laugh—and never, ever to be left behind.   Happy New Year everyone!

The Things We Save, The Things We Give Away

Since I just spent the last several months sorting through my own lifetime accumulation of “stuff” in order to get my house ready for sale, it was only fitting that I volunteered to chair the auction and raffle at the Scottish Deerhound Club of America’s annual National Specialty show, held in Richland, Washington last week. After my fall, winter, spring and summer cleaning, I had plenty that I myself could donate, so why not go on vacation just to have the opportunity to sort through someone else’s stuff?  After all, I’ve gotten good at it.  My intrepid road trip companion and auction co-chair Rachel and I rented an SUV a week ago Monday in order to haul the deerhound related treasures 1300 miles, set them beautifully arranged on a table, label and describe them enticingly just so they could, in short order, become part of another deerhounder’s collection of stuff.  George Carlin famously said, “A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.” This time I vowed that I was NOT getting more stuff.

But while we were there…well, the stuff just kept on coming.  Prior to the event, I had fretted because my email entreaties to bring donations for the auction and raffle went largely unanswered, but apparently not unheeded.  The knocks on our hotel room door started as we were unpacking our own suitcases, and the donors came indeed, bearing gifts of cardboard boxes filled to the brim.  By Wednesday evening we could have built a cardboard city, although a bonfire might have been more appropriate.  There were treasures there which were hard to resist—an 1883 edition of William Scrope’s Deerstalking in the Scottish Highlands—clearly a necessary reference book for my life in Southern California, and a handmade deerhound topped casserole dish, oven safe and dishwasher proof, for my imaginary culinary creations.  Some of the items were brand new—a brocade collar fit for the Royal Dog of Scotland, and some were a little more than gently used, with a fluffy patina of dog hair and dust.   We slowly worked our way to the bottom of each box, sorting as we went, until we got to the last one, where I found two old picture frames, face down, and picked them up.

The dog in the picture looks at me, head slightly cocked, ears askew.  His eyes are brown, and questioning. His coat is clean, and not matted, and his head is covered in the soft hair called for by our standard.  He is in a cheap frame, as is his companion, in a matching frame.  Why are they here, buried in the bottom of a cardboard box? I imagine they are dead, and that the photographs are now too painful to look at because they remind the owner of times past, happier times, and I burst into tears.  I hope that I am wrong, that the person who brought these to my room in a cardboard box was just tidying up—that he or she had scanned the photos into his computer as “wallpaper” and had no need for the actual photographs anymore.  But that is not what those pictures said to me.  I put them back in the box.

Bring me your old leashes, your dirty collars, your worn T shirts and sweatshirts.  We will recycle them for the next generation to carry on the “long grey line.” Bring me your antique bronzes lovingly crafted by the Animaliers of France and England in the 19th century, and your tales of stalking the red stag over the heather and the drink of Scotch from the quaich at the end of the hunt.  Bring me your handcrafted jewelry adorned with Celtic knots of silver and gold, and your art work and your crafts.  But please, don’t bring me pictures of your own dogs, buried and perhaps painfully remembered, perhaps forgotten.  Keep them, and the memories you have of them running through the fields, healthy and young again.

We turned in the SUV at the Portland airport, and flew home.  The auction was a huge success, and we came home to our families and dogs—the only things that really truly matter.

Be Prepared

My friend Rachel and I have done a fair amount of traveling together over the last ten years.  Mostly we’ve gone to dog shows, with occasional side trips thrown in.  We like a lot of the same things—deerhounds, horses, art, jewelry, and husbands who stay home with the animals while we jaunt around the country. Rachel had a military career before settling down in Sierra Vista, AZ, and I know it drives her crazy that I am ALWAYS late because she’s always buttoned up early and squared away.  She has a big cargo van, which is even more spacious than my Ford passenger van, so occasionally she helps me out when I need to transport things. In exchange for putting up with my tardiness, Rachel gets to observe my idiosyncrasies and provide our other friends with endless entertainment by telling stories about me.

In August Rachel agreed to meet me in Colorado at my parent’s condominium there, which had just been sold, to help me transport my father’s artwork and my mother’s “collectibles” (yes, Mom loved tschotkes too!) back to San Diego.  Our mission was to sort through twenty years of belongings in twenty four hours from Friday evening to Saturday night, then hightail it back home 976 miles on Sunday morning to be back at work by Monday.  It was a tall order, but we managed.  Most of the furniture was to remain behind to be picked up and donated to Habitat for Humanity, including an almost new and very large television set.  Rachel’s tv at home had just gone on the blink, so I offered her the behemoth in the living room.  She said, “Let’s see how much room we have in the van.”  I said, “Let’s put it in soon, then.”  She said, “I don’t think we’ll be able to get it down the stairs—it’s heavy!” When all was said and done and oil paintings and antiques were sandwiched safely between multiple dog beds, space was at a premium and the television stayed in the living room.

At nine am on Sunday morning, Rachel was seated in the driver’s seat, ready to roll.  In true obsessive compulsive fashion, I told her that I needed to make one more “pass-through”, just to make sure we weren’t forgetting anything important. She sighed and watched the minutes tick away while I ran back into the house.  I realized I had forgotten the closet in the master bathroom.  And that’s when I discovered the treasure trove!  Packaged up neatly into one gallon Zip Lock bags, were dozens of complete first aid kits—the remnants of my father’s many overseas travels.  Each bag was perfect—alcohol wipes, benzoin, gloves, suture material, gauze, dressings, steroid and antibiotic creams, and band-aids.  Many, many band-aids.  My heart was aflutter—I saw a first aid kit for every family car, for the barn, for the spare suitcase, for the dog grooming bag.  While Rachel waited patiently in the car, I stuffed the first aid kits into garbage bags, laundry bags, grocery bags—anything that would hold them. She watched in dismay as I ran to the car and tucked my treasures into every spare nook and cranny.  I was very proud of my resourcefulness, and I offered her some of the take.

Four months later, she still enjoys telling the story.  She regaled the guests who had come to her home a few weeks ago to pick up their new deerhound puppies with the tale of her crazy friend, who walked away from a brand new big screen tv, not to mention crystal and porcelain and her mother’s mink coat (which incidentally made her look like the Michelin tire man) in order to stuff BAGS OF BANDAIDS IN THE CAR!  I let her have her moment of hilarity.  But I know, in my heart, that those band-aids will prove to be far more useful than the mink coat.  The next time someone calls out—at a dog show, on an airplane, at the gas station—“Is there a doctor in the house??!!!”—like a good Boy Scout, I will be prepared.

The Road Warrior

Those who know me know that I am no stranger to traffic school.  My last session, in January, had to do with a disagreement with a camera perched on top of a traffic signal on my way home from work.  I said, “The light was yellow.”  Unfortunately the camera disagreed.  Bad news, good news—that self same camera, while capturing an image of me in my big red Suburban perfectly, did not capture the cell phone held up to my left ear.  I paid my dues and did my time, and I did not cheat on the test.

 

And so it was no surprise today, after only three hours on the road out of Cedar City, Utah headed towards Las Vegas, when I saw the flashing blue and white lights behind me, signaling me to pull over.   I was six hundred miles into a nine hundred and seventy mile road trip transporting my father, and his Volvo, back from Colorado to San Diego.  The officer said, “Ma’am, do you know how fast you were going?”  I said, “I don’t know Officer, I think about 80?”  He replied, “No ma’am.  I clocked you at ninety miles an hour.”  My father, in the passenger seat, piped up helpfully, “I thought you were going a little fast when you passed him.”  When I passed him? Thanks, Dad.  The officer looked at him, still a bit pale three months after open heart surgery at nearly 88, then at the heat shimmering up from the road and sighed.  He said, “The speed limit in Nevada is 75.  But I’m not going to give you a ticket today.”  Since he had K9 Corps emblazoned on his uniform, I felt compelled to chat him up about his dog.  He waved me on my way.

 

Between helping my daughter drive from Texas to Boston Memorial Day weekend, and now traveling from Colorado back to California, I figure I will have passed through seventeen states in three weeks—not bad for an old road warrior.  It’s hard to stop and smell the flowers when you’re driving 500 miles a day.  But last night, at a truck stop near Moab, Utah, I captured a perfect western sunset through the lens of an iPhone, the twin rain shelters over the pumps framing the darkened silhouette of the convenience store behind them.  I was reminded of taking this same route nearly seven years ago with my then sixteen-year-old son.  As we headed east from St. George on his first trip through the West, my son said to me, “Mom, now I see why this country is worth fighting for.”   He was right.  I think I’ll just slow down.

Trot Trot to Boston

“Trot trot to Boston

Trot trot to Lynn

Watch out Baby

So you don’t FALL IN!”

Nursery Rhyme

My road trip expectations always exceed their reality.   Last Wednesday evening, after a frantic day of packing which included a trip to the tailor to pick up her favorite dress being repaired for a ripped hemline, my daughter and I set out in her aged Subaru for Boston, MA where she will begin her residency in Internal Medicine in a few weeks.   The last time I did this particular road trip was 1979, when I myself set out in my bright red Camaro—armed with a six foot five male friend and apartment neighbor whose airfare home was paid by my parents in return for his perceived protection.  My daughter had to settle for a Taser.   Last time we barreled through Montgomery AL, Atlanta GA and Washington DC where the unfortunate Camaro had its side bashed in by a group of inebriated sailors returning from a night on the town.  We drove all day and most of the night, my friend Ed’s CB radio alerting us to lurking highway patrol cars ahead.  I didn’t see much of the countryside but I did learn my fare share of trucker lingo, including a meaning for the word “beaver” that in my naivete, I had never even considered.

 

This time was going to be different.  I polled patients and friends alike regarding the best, most scenic route to take.  One of my patients, a former long distance trucker, voted for a drive through the eastern part of Tennessee and the western half of Virginia, declaring definitively that the truck stops there had both the best restrooms and the best souvenirs.  My dog showing friends, who regularly hit the road with Hyundais full of hounds concurred.  I imagined myself lazily browsing for antiques along the back roads of Knoxville, and scanning the craft shops of Gatlinburg for handmade brooms, the better to sweep up the ever present dog hair collecting behind the furniture at home.  I dispatched my daughter’s cat to the boarding kennel and bought her a cheap ticket to go retrieve him once she had settled in, since several days in a car with the perfume of kitty litter was not my idea of a vacation, no matter how well behaved or adorable the cat.

 

Despite a first evening arrival in New Orleans at nearly 1 am, and spending the night without either the food or beverages the city is known for, my back road dreams were still intact when we reached Knoxville late on day 2.  It was the morning of the third day, when two locals laughed across the aisle at the Cracker Barrel at my mispronunciation of Sevierville (it’s SEVERE-ville, not SEAVER-ville, for the uninitiated) before they revealed that Gatlinburg, and the entrance to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park were at least a 45 minute drive each way from the highway, when it finally dawned on me that one does not drive nearly 2,000 miles in 3 days and sightsee along the way.   No trips down the off ramps to sample the fare at local diners, no sweeping vistas to photograph at 80 miles an hour, no local yellow dogs rolling over to have their white bellies scratched.   It was Boston or bust, and we coasted into Beantown on Saturday night of the holiday weekend, having taken  nearly 5 hours to drive in pouring rain around the city of New York.

 

One of these years, I will climb in my old Suburban “Big Red”, 200,000 miles and counting, and really drive across this great country of ours and I will stop along the way, whenever I want for as long as I want.  I will buy Cajun hot sauce, brooms made of fresh straw and local honey along the way. But for now—mission accomplished—in good time, with good company!  Tomorrow, back to work with my back road daydreams.

Road Tripping

ROAD TRIPPING

Road trippin’ with my two favorite allies
Fully loaded we got snacks and supplies
It’s time to leave this town
It’s time to steal away
Let’s go get lost
Anywhere in the U.S.A.
Let’s go get lost
Let’s go get lost
Blue you sit so pretty
West of the one
Sparkles light with yellow icing
Just a mirror for the sun
Just a mirror for the sun

 

It’s been awhile since I hit the road with my two current favorite allies, the Q’s—Queen and Quicksilver.  Now that I’ve figured out how to solve the carsickness problem which had me out of the driver’s seat, into the back of the van on my hands and knees with my Lysol, paper towels and those green plastic bags, usually within 20 minutes of starting out, I’m eager to go again. Two years of that and all it took was a little bit of Bonine—who knew?  My last big road trip with the girls was to Oregon eighteen months ago, for the Scottish Deerhound National Specialty.  Time was short, and we did not get to take the scenic route up the coast.

I’ve loved cars and driving for as long as I can remember.  Growing up in the flatlands of coastal Texas, having a car was an essential rather than a luxury.  During my early teenage years the driving age in Texas was 14, and I felt stunned and cheated when the legislature changed the legal driving age to 16, four months before my late December fourteenth birthday, and well after most of my classmates had earned their freedom.  My own liberation came soon enough, in the form of a 1963 white Chevy Impala, owned by my late grandfather, who literally only drove it to the corner grocery store and back. When I inherited that big engined beauty, with its turquoise Naugahide upholstery and plastic steering wheel with the little depressions for my fingers, the year was 1969 and the car had 7,000 miles on it.  I was in heaven.

By the time I graduated from medical school my love of the V8 surrounded by lots of “heavy metal” was fixed and for the last twenty years my vehicle of choice has been a Chevy Suburban, three in succession with the last one, Big Red, now 12 years old and about to roll over 200,000 miles.  I am somewhat pathologically attached to that car—I say that it’s because two years after I bought it in 2001, Chevy had the bad idea to turn it into a “soccer mom” car by pulling out the standard second bench seat and replacing it with two “captain’s chairs”, thus effectively removing 18 inches of rear cargo space, just enough to ensure that I could no longer get two 700 size giant breed airline crates in the back.  In the early years I spent hours on hold with Chevy’s customer service reps, likely somewhere in India, waiting to explain what a bad idea those captains seats were, not to mention the hydraulic lift that replaced the rear “barn” doors.  Imagine having 400 pounds of dog trying to exit the vehicle all at the same time.  But the real reason that I am hanging on to Big Red is the memories of many wonderful, and some not so wonderful road trips with kids and dogs.

The one my kids will likely never let me forget is the trip to Palm Springs when they were eleven, eight and five respectively and in a fit of sheer stubbornness (my husband was working in Rhode Island but there was no way THAT was going to stop me), I hauled the three of them along with three deerhounds to the dog show in January.  By the time we had come down the mountain into the valley, all six of them had thrown up. After the unloading at the hotel and the clean-up, we were back in the car where they commenced a fistfight over what kind of food and where we were going to eat for dinner.  I mistakenly turned down a blind alley and in one of the worst “Mommy moments” ever, briefly accelerated towards the adobe brick wall at the end.  Finally, there was silence in the car.

The ones I will always remember are the road trips taken separately with each child.  With my daughter, the ritual was always the same—peanut M and M’s, Cheetos, and Cokes for snacks, and turkey sandwiches with potato salad and dill pickles for dinner on the road.  With my older son, it was my turn for music education—he always made a CD of “his” music so he wouldn’t have to listen to mine. The content never failed to raise eyebrows the next time I would forget to turn off the player while ferrying a colleague around.  I took the longest trips with my youngest boy.  In 2007, when he was sixteen, we drove through southern Utah on our way to Colorado.  As he looked out the window, he exclaimed, “I never realized how beautiful this country was until we went on this trip.  Now I understand why people want to fight for it.”  Definitely worth every penny of the price of gas.

I’ve been feeling the wanderlust again lately—I dream of no agenda, no AAA prerouted trip, no reservations, no timetables, and no deadlines—just the open road, and of course, a couple of my favorite allies.  Want to come?