It May Help Someone

US West Communications photo: jparadisi

I apologize to my friends and family members who are reading about my current health issue for the first time on this blog. Finding out about what’s happening in the lives of the people you love through social media is akin to a HIPPA violation, but there you have it. It’s not that I don’t care, or don’t miss communicating with you directly, it’s that when an unexpected health problem occurs, hours of time are spent on the phone navigating the system for appointments, waiting for return calls, requesting diagnostic information, notifying work, canceling or rescheduling activities previously planned, and fulfilling as many other commitments as possible before surgery. I did call my mother first, because Mom finding this stuff out on the blog is a HIPPA violation where I come from. At times, I wonder if I should blog about this at all, but from the beginning I’ve felt that these posts may help someone.

One of the phone calls I made led to a strange encounter. I was prepared for most of the questions the woman asked, but a few seemed odd. For instance, when she found out that my implants have ruptured, she asked if it’s a common occurrence. I wasn’t sure what she meant. Common for me? Common for breast cancer survivors, or for implants in general? I told her implants have an expected lifespan of ten years, but I don’t have actual statistical data. She asked if it hurts. No, not now, just uncomfortable. There was a pause on her end of the line, then she asked the most outrageous question: “Is there a nicer word to use than ‘explode’?” Offended by her insensitivity, I sharpened a smart-ass remark and aimed it at her carotid. Then I thought better of it. In my best teaching voice, I said, “Use the word ‘rupture’; if you say ‘explode’ to a breast cancer survivor, you might make her cry.”

I was unprepared for the woman’s response: “I know, I’m going through it myself.” Incredulous, I asked her, “You have breast cancer?” She said, “Yes.” She told me she finished chemo and is going through reconstruction.

I dismounted my moral high horse. I considered the anxiety my story would have triggered in me when I was going through reconstruction, or cause someone else who is experiencing it now. She has a difficult job.

With genuine concern, I told her I am sorry she had breast cancer too. I told her that despite my current predicament, I am glad I chose reconstruction. I told her that being alive makes this problem entirely worth it.

And I mean it.

I Wish I’d Said It

I gather stories the way a sunburned entomologist admires his well-ordered bottles of Costa Rican beetles. Stories are the vessels I use to interpret the world to myself. I am often called a “storyteller” by flippant and unadmiring critics. I revel in the title.

-Pat Conroy

If I Could Save Time in a Bottle

Oregon agates in their natural state. photo: jparadisi 2011

It’s late Sunday evening as I write this post. Usually I’ve already written one and clicked the “publish” tab by now, but what the hey, I’m not a trained seal, you know?

Anyway, David and I went to the Oregon Coast for a brief trip to celebrate a family birthday. Surprisingly, it was sunny there, and sunny days are as rare as agates on the beach this spring. Now we’re back in Portland, and the clouds darken the sky as if someone put a gigantic hat over the city. However, my day was brightened to find that Dr. Dean Burke mentioned my post from last week among those of other talented nurse bloggers in The Millionaire Nurse Twitter Chat edition. Thank you!

Normally, when I know I’ll be out of town, I plan a post in advance so it’s ready to publish on Sunday evening, but this week time flowed away faster than a spilled latte at the nurses’ desk. First, work was crazy busy: the kind of shifts that make you come home and go bibbety-bibbety-bibbety, while drooling. Despite this, I felt strangely fulfilled. My colleagues and I worked well as a team, and we made some significant improvements in the lives of our patients. Being busy is not the same thing as being frustrated. Hard work resulting in good outcomes is its own reward.

Speaking of which, I was accepted into a juried art exhibition this week. I really wanted to make it into this show, but now the work begins. There’s an artist statement to write, a résumé to update, and framing to do before the show. Achievement comes with a to do list. Being an artist requires a level of professionalism similar to any other career. It’s not all crayons and finger paint.

Added to this week’s frenzy, my favorite 11 year-old had a band concert. He plays trombone, and shows promising talent. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. In fact, I showed up late for a gallery reception I promised I’d attend months before rather than miss it.

On the drive home from the Coast, David asked me how I was doing after such a busy week. I told him I am tired, but content. If I could save time in a bottle, this is how I would spend it: in meaningful relationships, and doing meaningful work. David said, “What else is there to spend it on?”

The Cherry Blossoms


photo by jparadisi 2011

I scoop the ovoid pit out of the pallid flesh of an aging avocado, and add it to my salad.  It does nothing to alleviate either my appetite or restiveness. Outside, the rain sluices fragile cherry blossoms from their branches into the gutters. I wonder why I continue eating salads in a vain attempt to lose my winter weight, as if I will wear anything other than pilled turtleneck sweaters this soggy spring.

I complain about the unseasonal rain as if I know anything about too much water. I know nothing about destruction and suffering, and of the thousands of lives lost in the deluge of a tsunami. I complain too much about the rain.

Moving to the living room, I sit on the sofa with a forkful of salad in my mouth, and turn on the evening news. On the TV a woman is telling her story in Japanese through an interpreter to a journalist. She has a white scarf wrapped around her wrinkled face, which reminds me of Georgia O’Keefe. She is a nurse, like me. The clothes she wears are borrowed. They are all she has. Her home and belongings were washed away.

She was at the hospital when the Tsunami hit. She didn’t leave her patients until it was almost too late: The water is coming. She carries those she can to the hospital roof. One patient, an old woman, cannot be carried to the roof. She begs to not be left to drown. This nurse, who reminds me of Georgia O’Keefe, looked into the woman’s terror filled eyes and said, “I am sorry grandmother. I cannot save you.” She weeps as she tells this story to the reporter on the evening news.

Since the disaster, this nurse, who reminds me of Georgia O’Keefe, spends her days caring for those who were saved. Homeless, she lives at the hospital, and her days roll by in an unending shift. There is so much need, and nowhere to go.

Later, I fall asleep listening to the cadence of the rain on the roof, and my husband’s breathing. I wake up in the dark. I have been dreaming of empty orbits in the sun-bleached skulls of steers, and I cannot stop weeping.

The Joy of Chemo Brain

Untitled charcoal on paper by jparadisi

Recently, I spent time exchanging cancer stories with patients, which is one of my favorite things to do. Although I’m an oncology nurse and a cancer survivor, I don’t get to do this as much as you might think, because patients come to the clinic for medical care, not hear me confuse my personal cancer experience with theirs. However, when asked:

▪  Does it feel weird when hair falls out?

▪   Is chemo brain is real?

▪   Should I buy a wig?

I volunteer my experiences, which are:

▪  Not everyone feels his or her hair falling out. I did, and it felt like I had my hair pulled back for hours in a too tight ponytail.

▪  Chemo brain is real. I experienced it as living submerged, just below the surface of normal clarity. I could not do even simple math equations to save my life. Often I couldn’t remember certain words or the names of coworkers unless I saw them daily. It felt as though my brain flipped through an internal “Rolodex” searching for the information, similar to the sensation felt when a word is “on the tip of the tongue.” I hit an all time low while watching a sitcom with my family. The laugh track sounded. They laughed, and I couldn’t understand the joke. I was sure I’d lost my mind.

▪  Maybe. I stopped wearing my wig soon after the shock of alopecia wore off. I had a habit of resting my fingertips on my temples, under the wig, and wiggling it. I did this in a restaurant at dinner with my sister. She told me to stop it. I realized I didn’t need the wig. It remained perched on its stand on my dresser like a small furry animal for the rest of my treatment. They are a good idea if you want to keep your cancer experience private.

Talking about my cancer experience reminded me someone had told me someday I’d miss it. Crazy as it is, she was right. Cancer brings some gifts. The best one was the opportunity to slow down my life and readjust its priorities to promote joy. I learned that there is no such thing as a balanced life. Life is a juggling act. The trick is in knowing which balls in the air make you happy, and which ones make you frantic. I enjoy juggling many balls in the air at once, but only if I feel a deep connection to each one. I choose every ball carefully.

I Wish I’d Said It

I’m a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.

-Thomas Jefferson

Delta Airlines Fined for Mistreatment of Disabled Passengers

Fellow artist, disability rights activist, and friend of mine, Carole Zoom comments on her treatment by an airlines in an article for the Minnesota-St. Paul Star Tribune:

Carole Zoom of Austin, Texas, an advocate for the disabled, said she was booted off a flight operated by another airline because of her ventilator. A different airline left her on the tarmac of an airport while workers scrambled to find her personal wheelchair. Zoom said she’s missed connecting flights several times because airlines failed to bring her wheelchair.

“It’s unfortunate to know that seven years later, the same kinds of violations are going on,” Zoom said, referring to the 2003 action against Delta. “I have to say that common sense and good customer service would go a long way toward resolving that issue.”

Go Carole! Read the rest of the article by Lora Pabst and Paul Walsh.

I Wish I’d Said It

Ravens oil on canvas by jparadisi

You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair.

-Chinese Proverbs

You Can Change the World 2K11

artist unknown. photo: jparadisi 2K11

Someone placed a sticker on our unit’s grease board. It reads, “You can change the world if you want to.”

Really? I think about how hard it is simply to keep peace among nurses during the course of a shift.

Throughout history, people have tried changing the world. Some accomplished extraordinary transformations through the persistent presentation of their ideas. Many suffered disastrous personal consequences for their efforts.”All we are saying, is give peace a chance” angers the hell out of some people. The list of eloquent, intelligent people who paid with their lives to enlighten the world is daunting, but peace is not promoted through silence.

A while ago, I noticed a patient reading Ken Kesey. The author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Kesey was raised in Eugene, Oregon.  He created the fictional character Nurse Ratched. The irony isn’t lost on me.

The poet John Donne wrote “I am a little world made cunningly of elements.” I wonder if the sticker on our unit’s grease board means by changing ourselves and our interactions with others, we become part of a world-changing collective; a sort of code team for the world? That feels a little more manageable. It beats waiting for the other guy to change, huh?

Cranberry and Caramel Date Bars

Cranberry & Caramel Date Bars photo: jparadisi 2010


Last night I finished my nursing shift later than expected, and I still had to bake cookies for a Christmas brunch and cookie exchange the next morning. This is my mother’s recipe. She started baking these festive looking bar cookies after I had moved out on my own. I was delighted to discover that not only are they delicious, they are easy and quick to make, which is wonderful when you are short on time.  You can really speed things up by using date pieces rather than cutting up whole dates.

Cranberry & Caramel Date Bars

1 cup fresh cranberries

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

2 1/3 cups all purpose flour

2 cups uncooked oats

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup butter, melted

1 1/2 cup dates, chopped

3/4 cups walnuts, chopped

1 cup caramel ice cream topping

Heat oven to 350° F. In bowl combine cranberries and 2 tablespoons sugar. In another bowl, combine 2 cups flour, oats, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, brown sugar, and soda. Add butter; mix well. Reserve 1 cup of crumb mixture; press remainder firmly on bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking pan. Bake 15 minutes. Sprinkle dates, walnuts, and cranberry mixture over crust. Mix caramel topping and remaining 1/3 cup flour, spoon over fruit and walnuts. Top with reserved crumb mixture. Bake 20 minutes or until lightly brown, cool. Cut into bars (makes 24 bars).

Thanks Mom!