Friday, March 31, 2017

The weight of justice

"And Indian chiefs with their old beliefs know
The balance is undone - crazy ions
You can feel it out in traffic
Everyone hates everyone!"

Last week I served as a juror in a criminal trial in Fort Bend County.

This is the third time I've sat on a jury. The first time was a breach of contract civil court case in Harris County. The second time was a municipal court case for a misdemeanor traffic violation in Sugar Land.

This case involved a traffic violation too, but it was for a felony, evading arrest using a motor vehicle. The defendant plead guilty, which was wise, since there was police video in which he was clearly identifiable. So the trial was to be about the penalty.

First, let me say that I think the jury system is seriously flawed. I don't have any suggestions for how to fix it though. I'll get into that in a bit. But let me start from the top.

Oddly enough, Neil and I each received a jury summons for the same court on the same date. But as Eko said to Locke in Season 2 of Lost (which I am re-watching), don't mistake coincidence for fate. Locke later repeats this to Desmond in Season 3 - but I digress.

I suggested we take two cars to the courthouse but Neil thought we should carpool, so we took my car. If one of us got picked and one was released, either of us could leave and pick the other up later.

So we went through the rigamarole of metal detectors and standing in line and signing in and sitting. And sitting. We were sworn in, a judge addressed us, telling us that next to military service, juror service was the best way to serve our country. Uh huh. Based on the gratitude expressed to us for just showing up, I'd speculate that a lot of people must toss the summons.

Since we are moving out of state inside of six months, I considered not going, but with both of us being called on the same date and Neil wanting to color within the lines, I decided to go. And naturally I was number 10 on the second panel called, and naturally Neil was thanked, dismissed and free to go. He came and found me and got the car key.

After some more sitting around, we were called into the courtroom and introduced to the prosecution and defense. During the voir dire, we were asked a lot of questions about whether we could keep an open mind until we heard all the evidence and whether we'd be willing to consider a range of penalties. There were a few stupid answers, such as those from people who insisted that the answer to those questions depended on the facts, despite being pressed to consider the hypothetical. They were not selected. Hmm, maybe those answers weren't as stupid as they seemed.

We were also reminded that a defendant has the right to plead the fifth and if that right was invoked we should not consider it one way or the other as evidence of guilt or innocense.

I was the fifth juror seated. Twelve jurors plus an alternate were chosen. We were told that the trial was expected to last one day and that we would start at 9:30 the next day.

So Neil picked me up and we got a late breakfast at The Egg and I. I told Neil only about the bare bones of the case, that it was criminal and penalty only. He asked and I told him the defendant was not old and was dressed in a cheap suit or possibly slacks and a sports jacket, because I am unobservant like that.

Before I left the following morning, I almost wrote down a prediction of how the trial would go, since I couldn't say anything. But I decided to keep that open mind and hear the evidence before reaching the verdict.

We thirteen jurors convened in the jury room, where we had a coffee maker and coffee, a small fridge and a broken TV. Shortly after 9:30 the bailiff walked us to the courtroom. Did you know that whenever the jury enters and exits the courtroom, all rise? I didn't. I kept forgetting to remain standing until the judge said, be seated.

We didn't have assigned seats but I usually sat in the front row near the left side.

The defendant plead guilty, as expected, to the felony charge. The prosecution presented its case first. The plaintiff's burden of proof in a criminal trial is to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt - which we were told does not mean beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Two Sugar Land police officers testified. I'll try to keep the recap quick. The crime had been committed more than two years earlier, in the wee hours of an October morning in 2014. There was a routine traffic stop for speeding. The defendant exited the freeway, apparently to pull over, then apparently changed his mind and made a U-turn under the freeway and started picking up speed. Before reaching the entrance ramp, he climbed the curb and hit a road sign taking out his left rear tire.

He proceeded to get on the freeway and pick up speed, riding on three tires and a rim, in a storm of sparks. The officer followed, while calling in backup. Three exits later, the defendant exited the freeway. At the intersection he lost control of his car and spun around, coming to a stop. This is where his face was clearly illuminated in the police car headlights.

The chase wasn't over though. The defendant started driving again, turning the wrong way down the feeder road, cutting through a shopping center and the heading back to and onto the freeway. For eight more miles at speeds above the limit, sparks flying from the tireless wheel, he continued driving, followed by four or five police cars, finally taking an interchange onto another highway. At this point the car slowed and came to a stop.

Officers approached, guns drawn, yelling commands. We saw the defendant pulled from the vehicle, ostensibly unconscious. The film ended when he was pulled off camera. You could hear one officer say that he didn't smell alcohol.

The prosection rested. We broke for lunch.

In the afternoon, the defense called its first witness. The defendant took the stand.

I will mention here that the defendant had what I would call a hardened face. I might have said he looked like a thug. His demeanor was penitant and sorrowful, He apologized profusely and repeatedly to anyone and everyone. He testified that he did not have any memory of the chase, that he woke up in the hospital, that he called his ex-girlfriend who came and picked him up. The details are blurry, hard to make sense of from any angle. More than once, I wanted to take the floor and cross-examine the witness myself. Many questions that I had were never addressed.

We heard his life story. It was long and sad, naturally. He was born in 1985, making him the same age as my eldest daughter. His mother was never in the picture, although somehow he had several brothers and sisters. His father was disabled with brain damage in an alcohol-involved vehicle accident when he (the defendant, James) was three. James lived in an orphanage for the next ten years, then with siblings.

He had been married, had two children, was divorced and had a third child from a more recent relationship. The events of the case happened shortly after that relationship was ended by the child's mother. Along the way, James had gotten both an associate's degree and a bachelor's degree. Along the way he had also gotten several misdemeanor convictions, one for petty theft and several for driving while intoxicated and driving without a valid license. Each time he was sentenced to probabtion or time served.

Two other witnesses testified for James. The first was his current girlfriend, who was lovely, bright, articulate, a physical therapist with a PhD, working with patients with brain injuries. She said that they'd met just over a year earlier, that he was open and honest from the first about all the blemishes on his record, that she did all the driving now because she didn't drink and that he only drank on family occasions or when he was stressed. Hmm.

The second witness was her father, a career firefighter, who also was well spoken, credible and spoke strongly in support of James. He said that he felt really good about his daugher, Lauren, marrying James, that James had been living in their home, and that he was honest and helpful and penitent and a reformed man.

Wow. I could never feel happy about my daughter marrying this man. For one thing, he already had three kids, strained relationships with their mothers, and child support that he was struggling to pay or repay. That alone would knock him out of contention, let alone the prior convictions and probations and evidence of impaired judgment. But that is me and this man clearly was not me.

After a recess, we heard closing arguments, then adjorned to the jury room to deliberate. Our poor alternate, who'd sat through all the testimony, had to sit alone in a separate room and wait. We were charged with determining the penalty and the range was two to ten years in prison, wth an option for community supervision, essentially probabation, and a fine of up to $10,000.

I was chosen to be principle juror. You'd think the introvert in me would rigorously avoid that role, but the control freak in me always wins out at times like this. It was no coincidence that I'd chosen the seat at the head of the table. We were six men and six women, with a good deal of racial and demographic diversity.

When I'd been a juror previously, I had walked into deliberations with a fair amount of certainty about what the right outcome would be. In this case I was feeling pretty much at sea. So I suggested we each take a piece of paper and write down which way we were leaning, prison or probation. I said I didn't want us to go around the table and speak because we might influence each other and I wanted a genuine read on how people felt.

We had six people for probation and six for prison. I had written down probabtion.

Now here is where my disillusionment with the jury process kicks in. Some people take jury duty very seriously. Some people just want to get it over with and go home. Some people have conviction about their feelings, some people (most people) don't like to speak in public, mnay people fear and avoid controversy. Some people are articulate about why they feel how they feel and some people can't explain why they feel how they feel.

One by one, jurors get tired, get worried about family obligations or missed work or whatever, and after a while they will go whichever way the wind blows just to blow this popsicle stand.

We deliberated for at least four hours. We started around 4 pm. For once I felt swayable in my position. But as I told Neil later, I had one woman on the jury who was me. That is, she knew the right answer and she would not be moved. Have you seen the movie, 12 Angry Men? Then you know what happens.

So I had one woman who had decided that James needed to pay for his crime and do time. That was her story and she was sticking to it. I had two women who felt like James deserved another chance or that prison never did anyone any good. Most of the rest of the room either felt like me, that they could go either way, and the rest just didn't care and would have been happy to roll the dice or go with the majority rule. Except the jury charge was explicit that we could not use any means other than reaching an authentic unanimous agreement to come to a decision.

After a short time people started making noises about telling the judge we could not agree. I told them it would be futile, that the parties and judge would not want to try the case again and would tell us to keep talking. At about 7:40 pm the bailiff came in and took our pizza order. I felt certain we'd be there until late-thirty, with the possibility of a return the next day and a long shot chance of sequestration.

I was starting to feel a bit shaky from not eating, another factor that I can see playing into people's resilience and willingness to abandon principle. I started tossing scenarios out. What if we gave James probabtion along with the longest sentence, ten years, as the biggest stick for him to keep his record clean? Our crime and punishment woman wasn't having it. What if we gave him probabtion and the largest fine, $10,000 dollars as punishment? That also didn't fly. Time for the crime washer demand.

So I asked my two anti-prison ladies if they could live with the shortest prison sentence, two years, of which he'd probably serve only part if his behavior was good. Since neither one was as tough or hard-line as prison-woman, tears were shed but agreement to the shortest prison sentence was reached. I honestly think I have a knack for this. We called for the bailiff but the pizza was on its way and we had to wait to see what the judge wanted to do.

My job was write in the number of years and to sign the verdict, which I found a bit difficult since I had leaned toward probation. The judge called for us. I warned the two probation women that the defendant would weep. All rose as we filed in, the judge asked if we'd reached a decision, I said tht we had. I hand the paperwork to the bailiff who handed it to the judge. The judge read it aloud.

I was very aware of the attorneys' eyes on me, but I didn't make eye contact. Instead I studied the defendant, who buried his head in his hands and shook with silent tears. Out of the corner of my eyes I watched pretty Lauren flush, turn to her father and start crying, and I watched her father try to comfort her.

We were thanked and asked to return to the jury room so the judge could come in and talk to us. I was still shaky and ate a slice of pizza. My fellow jurors were kind to me and poured me a large plastic cup of Dr. Pepper. I really needed that sugar. The judge came in and I asked him a lot of questions, such as whether the defendant would go straight to jail. The judge said he thought they were booking him as we spoke. I asked other questions, such as why it had taken so long to get to trial and he spoke of overloaded dockets and a shortage of judiciary personnel and the like.

And then, I'd had enough. I got up, thanked my fellow jurors, all of whom had stuck around, and walked out. I was done.

Only I wasn't. The case held a grip on my mind for days. It's hard not having a crystal ball. Had the defendant finally gotten himself sorted out, hooked up with a good woman and a decent family, and started really getting his life together? Would Lauren stand by him while he served time? Would he come out of prison more hardened and angry and embittered? Had we just thrown away the best chance of redemption he'd ever have?

On the flip side, had we maybe done Lauren a huge favor? Had we perhpas gifted this girl some additional time to reflect on whether to hitch herself to a guy who already had three kids he could barely support, no driver's license, a propensity to drink when he was stressed, and jail or no jail, a felony conviction on his record?

Playing with people's lives is a heavy burden.

Two things happened since the trial that have made me feel a lot better about the outcome.

The first was that I did an internet search, looking for a photo to show Neil what the defendant looked like. I found this police blotter item in the Wharton Journal Spectator dated November 2, 2013.

What did it mean? Had the prosecution failed to find this, despite presenting evidence of a string of arrests and convictions? Could the date in the court case have been wrong?

All became clear when I finally sat down to write this story. Because I googled the text of the Texas law about evading arrest.

Under the Texas Penal Code, a person commits the offense of evading arrest if he or she intentionally flees from a person he knows is a peace officer attempting lawfully to arrest or detain him.

If the accused uses a vehicle while in flight, the offense is a state jail felony, punishable by between 180 days and two years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.

However, a second conviction for evading arrest in a motor vehicle is a third-degree felony, punishable by between two and 10 years in jail along with a fine of up to $10,000.

Obviously James was a repeat offender. For whatever reason, this was not given in evidence. If it had been, I know the decision would have been a lot easier for us, the jury.

I only wish I had asked my fellow jurors for their names and phone numbers to stay in touch. I'd have loved to let my two sad ladies know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Because I feel like we heard just a little too much bullshit.

I pulled up behind a Cadillac
We were waiting for the light
And I took a look at his license plate
It said "Just Ice"
Is justice just ice?
Governed by greed and lust?
Just the strong doing what they can
And the weak suffering what they must?
And the gas leaks
And the oil spills
And sex sells everything
And sex kills
Sex kills

Doctors' pills give you brand new ills
And the bills bury you like an avalanche
And lawyers haven't been this popular
Since Robespierre slaughtered half of France!
And Indian chiefs with their old beliefs know
The balance is undone - crazy ions
You can feel it out in traffic
Everyone hates everyone!
And the gas leaks
And the oil spills
And sex sells everything
And sex kills
Sex kills

All these jackoffs at the office
The rapist in the pool
Oh and the tragedies in the nurseries
Little kids packin' guns to school
The ulcerated ozone
These tumors of the skin
This hostile sun beating down on
This massive mess we're in!
And the gas leaks
And the oil spills
And sex sells everything
And sex kills
Sex kills.

(Joni Mitchell)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

All (or at least some) is revealed

"And then I open up and see
The person falling here is me
A different way to be."

Today (March 25 for those in different time zones) is reveal day for the Bead Soup Blog Party - Bead Hoarders Edition. The Blog Party is the brainchild of Lori Anderson of Bead Soup Cafe and the blog Pretty Things, where you will find a linked list of all the participants. Should you be interested in seeing lots of eye candy, please visit the linked blogs and Pinterest boards.

This time I finished two pieces, using a mix of beads from the two soups my partner, Andra Weber, sent me, plus some from my own stash. Andra sent me two soups - see them here and here - and I loved both of them, especially the focals. The theme of the swap was to send a focal bead that you'd personally loved and hoarded. Sending additional beads was optional but always adds to the fun

I still have a lot of beads left to play with, enough for several more pieces, and a lot of good intentions to go with them. I'd say that two days of jury service this week put me behind but, face it, I would have found other excuses, I mean reasons, to run out of time. The best reason is the truest one. Jewelry design takes both time and inspiration. Time is never unlimited and inspiration, well, as I may have mentioned, that muse of mine is a flibbertigibbet.

Actually putting a piece together takes the smallest amount of time, compared to thinking about it, planning it, laying it out, deciding you hate it, starting over, thinking, planning, hunting through your own stash for those perfect beads you think you remember having, maybe finding them, maybe not, maybe finding something else you'd forgotten that suddenly demands attention. At some point you just have to bite the bullet and make the piece and hope you stick the landing.

I have pieces I've taken apart and remade as many as five times over a period of time. Since I make my own lampwork beads, I've been known to wear a piece for a while, then take it apart and sell the lampwork. I have other pieces that date back to the beginning of time, by which I mean time since I first learned to make jewelry with beads.

My first piece to show was made with the focal bead from my first soup, the bronze daggers and cranberry crystals from my second soup, some round pink Czech glass beads that came from my own stash, plus a clasp I liberated from another necklace. The piece almost made itself. I knew right away how I wanted to use the focal. It's simple, easy to wear and pretty I think.

My second piece uses the focal and matching pair from my second soup, as well as the green crystals and pink opalite from my second soup. I already had the peachy agate rounds, AB cubes and wine seed bead spacers. And the clasp came from my first bead soup exchange. Yes, I took apart one of the pieces from that swap. My skills have evolved since that time and I wanted to use the pretty clasp in something more worthy.

This piece was harder for me becasue I could visualize so many different ways to play the focal. I'm happy with the way it all came together.

And at the eleventh hour, I decided to make one more quick piece, a bracelet using the carnelian nuggets from Andra and some random beads from my stash.

Every now and then that muse steps up to the plate and pulls a long ball.

Oh, my life
Is changing every day
In every possible way

And oh, my dreams
It's never quite as it seems
Never quite as it seems

I know I've felt like this before
But now I'm feeling it even more
Because it came from you

And then I open up and see
The person falling here is me
A different way to be

I want more
Impossible to ignore
Impossible to ignore

And they'll come true
Impossible not to do
Impossible not to do

And now I tell you openly
You have my heart so don't hurt me
You're what I couldn't find

A totally amazing mind
So understanding and so kind
You're everything to me

Oh, my life
Is changing every day
In every possible way

And oh, my dreams
It's never quite as it seems
'Cause you're a dream to me
Dream to me.

(Dolores O'Riordan and Noel Hogan)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Exposure leads to more exposure

"And why do you sing Hallelujah
If it means nothing to you
Why do you sing with me at all?"

No surprises here. The nodule above my nostril turned out to be a big nothing. Big being the operative word, albeit I concede somewhat subjective.

Since I was less than one percent worried that it was something, I was happy only to be able to name it. A benign fibrous papule, or angiofibroma. I could tell immediately from the cheerful telephone voice of the newsbearer that it wasn't anything concerning.

You don't have to do anything further, she said. I of course said, but what if I want it gone? She said, we can remove it. That was good news.

I asked if it would be problematic to remove it, considering my shave biopsy hasn't healed yet. She said, that's no problem, we can't get you in until the end of the month anyway, you should be healed by then.

I asked if I'd be trading in my scar for a bigger scar. She said, the new scar would be linear, which as far as I'm concerned is better than a pancake shaped scar. I asked if Dr. E. would be doing the removal and she said, no, we have specialists that do these surgeries.

So it's booked. My nose goes under the knife, again, on March 31, with Dr. P. doing the honors.

And naturally part of me wonders if we couldn't have skipped this interim misery and gone straight to an excision, if a more experienced doctor would have been able to diagnose it with reasonable certainty, instead of it/me having to be sliced first.

I'm still dealing with ointment and bandaids on my nose, and I get to do it all again right about the time I get shut of all this aftercare.

Since it's a case of cosmetics, not cancer, I shall officially stop complaining about it now. At least between now and March 31 you won't hear one more nose peep from me. After that, all bets are off. If they weren't, you'd be pretty safe betting that I'll be whining again after the knob job.

It's been a quiet interlude here, so I only had to go out socially once with a bandaided nose, to a dinner with a former colleague of Neil and his wife. Concealer and powder worked more recently when we met friends for Dim Sum, but now I'm back to the ointment-bandaid rigamarole. Nothing much is on the calendar between now and month-end, except an eye doctor appointment and a baby shower.

April is wide open right now as well. It's looking like our next North Carolina trip won't be until mid-May at the soonest. We'll be picking out the granite slabs for our counters, making landscaping plans and designing closet upgrades.

I've been jonesing to plan one hiking trip between now and moving time.

Bead sales have picked up a bit, at least compared to the last slow spell. I did another round on the bargain bead site, and once again I did really well for a week or so and then things tapered off.

So I guess that's how I'll play it. Stay off it for a while and if things get impossibly slow, give it another go.

I had a few buyers leverage the heck out of their $3.50 shipping, causing me to pay for priority shipping because their boxes weighed more than one pound, and paying for insurance to boot. But I'm not complaining about that.

Because on the flip side, there are always a few people who sit tight with a $6 purchase and I wind up having to print an invoice and a shipping label and use tissue paper and a bubble envelope. Hypothetically that cost is built into my shipping fees but just barely. It's more of a psychological thing though, to have someone win what should have been a $12 pair of beads for $6 and then they are done.

I know, think of it as a loss leader. Hopefully they will get it and love it so much that they will come back for many more, at full price. Except, no, it doesn't work that way. Someone said it well the other day, in the context of being asked for a bead donation to a good cause, in return for which you get "exposure." She said, exposure just leads to more exposure.

I'm pretty sure I've never made a sale on the basis of any beads I donated to a good cause. Yes, it's nice to know that fish bead that I would have happily sold for $25 raised $200 for the cause, but it won't pay the power bill or buy me any new glass.

I've been playing with silver leaf and frit and feeling chuffed with the results, but, as has been my chronic recent history, focal beads don't sell for me. Not even pretty ones like these.

Today, both Neil and I had jury duty. What are the odds of that? We drove together which naturally meant that I was called for a panel and he was dismissed. And, why yes, I was seated. Hello Juror number 5.

It's a criminal case and that's all I am allowed to say right now, except that the trial is only expected to last for one day. I go back tomorrow and with luck we'll get 'er done. The judge did tell us to make arrangements in case we need to stay late.

I'll be back with a full report. And don't forget, Saturday is the Bead Soup Blog Party reveal day. I've got one piece made and one more in progress in my mind.

Am I procrastinating? Guilty as charged.

We might kiss when we are alone
When nobody's watching
We might take it home
We might make out when nobody's there
It's not that we're scared
It's just that it's delicate

So why do you fill my sorrow
With the words you've borrowed
From the only place you've known
And why do you sing Hallelujah
If it means nothing to you
Why do you sing with me at all?

We might live like never before
When there's nothing to give
Well how can we ask for more
We might make love in some sacred place
The look on your face is delicate

So why do you fill my sorrow
With the words you've borrowed
From the only place you've known
And why do you sing Hallelujah
If it means nothing to you
Why do you sing with me at all?

(Damien Rice)

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Souped up

"You can't bargain with the truth
'Cause for those who were deceived
There'll be no reprieve
There'll be no time to believe in the end."

That's the first picture of work on our new house. The basement walls - which had just been poured - to be precise. Shit is getting real. You know that's true when they bring in the porta potty.

A few days ago, I got a second bead soup from my partner, Andra Weber, in the Bead Soup Blog Party. Andra felt like she'd second-guessed herself and, after looking at my Facebook page, had sent me beads that weren't her original intent for the exchange. In the long run, she decided to go with her first instincts and send me the soup she'd originally planned to send.

If this sounds inarticulate, it's because I sincerely appreciated the first soup, but rather than look a gift horse in the mouth, I'll just say thank you and shoulder the challenge of making at least two creations for the March 25 reveal.

Here is the second soup Andra sent me.

There's a beautiful lampwork focal and matching pair, along with Czech beads and crystals and some sweet pink opalite. There's also a strand of gemstone beads and a strand of large pink crystals.

Here's another look at the focal set, the rest of the beads and a tube of seed beads that were in the package.

I have my work cut out for me. You know what I'll be doing on March 24.

So, as I mentioned about 5 or 6 posts ago, it was 102 degrees the day Chelsea was born. After we found out, at 37 weeks, that she was transverse breech, we were resigned to having a C-section. I asked my OB about trying to turn her and she was adamantly opposed.

My original due date was August 16, 1988. A friend pointed out that if I had my C-Section on the eighth, her birthday would be 8-8-88. The idea appealed to me. I asked my doctor about it and she was agreeable. But there was a hitch. She was taking a week of vacation, returning on August 7, and she wouldn't schedule the surgery without doing an amnio to test lung maturity. I'm clueless why this would have been an issue at 39 weeks. But it was what it was.

The hospital would only schedule C-Sections in the morning, so my doc came up with a plan. I'd go in for the amnio that morning, and when she got the results, we'd get me in by saying that my water broke. Oh, I talked the doctor into signing me off work for the week she was away so that I could put up my feet and sip wine to ward off labor. With a face-down, transverse lie, you definitly don't want to go into labor. Nothing good happens when the cord is born first.

So on the morning of August 8, Jon and I went to the hospital in the small hours to have the amnio. We went home and I let my pediatrician know that I'd be having the baby that day. Mid-afternnon we got the amnio results and the game was afoot. The doctor sent me to the hospital, saying my water had broken.

The hosital staff was suspicious. Apparently my pediatrician had called to ask if the baby had arrived. They asked me a lot of questions, I made up answers on the fly. No I hadn't brought along any soaked garments. Yes, I'd felt a trickle of liquid but I'd taken a shower. They did some sort of test but got an equivocal result. My doctor showed up after office hours and took charge, She said, I'm not taking any chances. She said, prep her.

There was a lot of rigmarole, being hooked up to monitors, meeting the anesthesiologist, getting an IV, a catheter, an epidural. They wheeled my into surgery, My arms were strapped to some sort of boards, presumably so that I didn't try to assist the doctor. The put up a little curtain at my midriff. The lights were very bright, there were a lot of people in the room, including neonatal specialists for higher risk deliveries. It was loud, people were talking about pre-season football, I was pretty much that patient etherized upon that table.

Then my doctor breezed in, all suited up and gloved, and this is what she said to me. I told you I'd have to do a vertical incision, right? Well, no, you didn't. I thought I'd have a bikini-line incision like everyone else. She eyed me. She said, well, I can do that, I can just make a really wide cut, but if you get a bad baby, it isn't my fault.

I am not making that up. Those were her words. You don't forget words like those.

And what are you gonna do? Take risks with your babie's health before she's even breathed one breath. No, I didn't think so. I said, do the verticle incision.

I remember I did a lot of screaming. I didn't feel any surgical pain, but I felt my organs being rearranged. I felt lots of unpleasant pulling and tugging. The circus roiled on around me, and eventually I had a baby. No one said, it's a girl. They showed her to me, but I was too agitated to appreciate the moment. They took her away to clean her up, they stapled me up and took me to a recovery room. And finally it was quiet.

Jon came in and I wept. I was so angry. I was angry that my doctor didn't tell me about the verticle incision until I had needles and tubes in multiple places and my hands were bound to boards. I felt mutiilated. I wanted to sit up. Jon, who had actually seen my incision, encouraged me to keep lying down. He had seen Chelsea, cleaned up, weighed in at 7.4 oz. and responding to his voice. I was eager to get her back.

And once I had her back, I refused to let them take her away again. I spent four nights, from Monday to Friday, in the hospital, and she never left my room. They wanted to take her and give her a bath. I insisted they bring in a warmer and bathe her in the room. I would not let her go to the nursery so I could sleep. I just slept when she did and held her the rest of the time.

Our sitter brought K.C. to the hospital to see her baby sister. K.C. held her on a pillow and said, I'm already the big sister. I have this all on VHS tapes, but since VCRs are almost obsolete, I should have them converted to DVD or accept that I am the only one interested in watching them and I still have two working VCRs, we're probably good.

Most of what I remember about that week was how hungry I was. I'd had only a banana on the birth date, knowing that I'd be having surgery. The hospital kept me on a liquid diet until I passed gas. I would have killed for a cheeseburger. Finally, around Thursday, when nature was still refusing to take its course, they gave me something to let it all go. After that I got to eat food again.

We went home on Friday morning, but before we left Chelsea's bilirubin levels spiked up. I had a choice of leaving her in the hospital or taking her home and having home health set us up with light therapy at home. Of course I took her home. My pediatrician wanted me to bring her in for a recheck. After lunch I told K.C. we were taking the baby back to the doctor. She burst into tears.

She said, you told me we were never taking her back.

We spent a pretty miserable weekend. I was terrified that the little felt goggles the nurse put over her eyes to protect them from the lights would slip. Jon slept in a rocking chair with her so I could get some sleep. I held her whenever I wasn't sleeping. The nurse came daily to take blood from Chelsea's little foot. By Monday her bilirubin levels had come down. The lights were packed up and sent away.

And we started on the brilliant adventure of raising two daughters, two little girls. Sisters.

"You can't bargain with the truth
Whether you're right or you're wrong
We're gonna know what you've done
We're gonna see where you belong in the end

You can't bargain with the truth
Whether you are black or you're white
We're gonna know who's right
We're gonna see you in the light in the end

Every little thing you do
You better know it's coming back to you

You can't bargain with the truth
Cause one day you're gonna die
And good's going high
And evil's going down in the end

You can't bargain with the truth
Whether you're old or young
We're gonna see what you've done
There'll be nowhere else to run in the end

You can't bargain with the truth
Whether you're rich or you're poor
You're gonna meet at the same door
You're gonna know the real score in the end

And if you want to help your fellow man
You better start with what is in your hand

You can't bargain with the truth
Whether you're right or you're wrong
We're gonna know what you've done
We're gonna see where you belong in the end

You can't bargain with the truth
'Cause if the world you chose
No further than your nose
Will be where the doors will close in the end

You can't bargain with the truth
'Cause for those who were deceived
There'll be no reprieve
There'll be no time to believe in the end

Oh every little thing you do
You better know it's coming back to you

You can't bargain with the truth
'Cause one day you're gonna die
And good's going high
And evil's going down in the end."

(Yusuf Islam)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

From molehill to mountain

"And it gets darker every night
Spread-eagled out among the stars, she says
Somewhere in this tunnel lives a light."

About a month ago, I noticed a small bump under the skin on the tip of my nose, right side.

I'd guesstimate the nodule was about 1 mm. I work with beads. I've learned my mms. 1 mm may sound quite small but it's enough to make an earring pair unmatched.

Anyway, this thing felt sort of rubbery and there was no tenderness or redness. Googling was useless to help me figure out what it was, but did lead me to some pretty gross photos and videos. Whatever you do, don't google bump in the tip of the nose and then watch any Youtube videos.

Neil said that skin cancer grows on the skin, not under it, but there's a history of cancer in my family and when I was a kid, my father's sister died of skin cancer in her mid-40s.

Even though I was pretty sure this little lump was nothing serious, it began to grow like kudzu on my mind. I couldn't stop checking it, to see if it was still there, had gotten smaller or bigger, had moved or done anything interesting.

It was pretty boring, always the same, always there. So I made an appointment with a dermatologist.

Last year I had a xanthelasma biopsied (i.e., removed) from my left lower eyelid. Before the biopsy, my dermatologist told me that it was benign and that I didn't have to do anything. I said, you don't understand. I want it gone.

He did a fantastic job. I can't even detect a scar.

Since then Dr. F moved his practice uptown, so I made an appointment with a new dermatologist, Dr. E. I saw her a couple of weeks ago. I was relieved when she diagnosed it as an inflamed hair follicle and elated when she suggested that injection of a steroid would take care of it. She gave me the shots in the schnoz.

For an hour or so I thought I'd had a complete recovery, but as soon as the swelling from the injection subsided, I could tell it hadn't worked. That rubbery little bugger was unabated. I gave it a week. If anything, the steroid shrunk the surrounding tissue and made the nodule more evident.

So I went back last week, and Dr. E. performed a shave biopsy. She didn't do it to remove the Thing. She said that would leave a serious scar. She did it to send a specimen off to a lab to see what we are dealing with and determine whether to refer me to an ENT or a plastic surgeon.

I wish I had done some homework on a shave biopsy before I had it done. For one thing, it hurts. For a wound smaller than a pencil eraser and fairly shallow, it has been splitting my head apart in a shockingly large way. If I put a bandaid over it (have you ever tried putting a bandaid on the tip of your nose?) the pressure is distractingly painful. If I leave the bandaid off, any air circulation rampages my nerve endings. Who would have thought there were so many nerve endings in your nose?

For another thing, it looks terrible. It's angry and red and despite my best wound care efforts - washing with gentle soap and water, annointment with ointment, keeping it moist and covered - I'm sure I will have an impressive scar. I don't mind that so much. I do mind having a scar and still having the fucking lesion. If I have to have a scar, I'd just as soon have gone straight to a plastic surgeon and had the bump excised.

Neil tries to talk me down. He says a plastic surgeon would most likely have done a biopsy first anyway. I'm not so sure. He says, it's done, it's not the end of the world, move on and forget about it.

Easy to say when you don't have continuous throbbing reminding you continuously.

Maybe I'm naive, but I really wasn't expecting this disfigurement, this much discomfort, this much making a mountain out of a molehole.

There's a small part of me that thought, maybe Dr. E. did get it. Maybe making the area so angry would make it go away. Maybe the healing process for the biopsy would heal that mother right out of town. I knew that was a stretch. Exploring the area gingerly leads me to conclude that the mass persists. Now I'm just hoping that Dr. E. got into the meat of it enough to determine what I'm dealing with.

Oh well. Just another first world problem. I'm waiting for the biopsy results and to see where we go from here. I'm optimistic that it's nothing malignant and pessimistic that my choice will be to live with a lump and a scar or to go under the scalpel again for the sake of vanity and sanity.

Sorry, no photos this time.

Good news, photos next time, including a snap of our house in progress and a second scoop of bead soup.

Her new name was tattooed to her wrist
It was longer than the old one
Sealed in the silence with a fist
This night will be a cold one
Centuries live in her eyes
Destiny laughs over jack-booted thighs
Work makes us free, says the sign
Nothing leaves here alive

She steps out of line to the left
And her father to the right
One side's a cold, clean death
The other is an endless night
Gold from a grandmother’s tooth
Mountains of jewelry and toys
Piled in the corners, mailed across the borders
Presents for the girls and boys

And it gets darker every night
Spread-eagled out among the stars, she says
Somewhere in this tunnel lives a light
Still my beating heart
I have never known a man
What man will want me now?
Am I still alive, somehow?
If I can survive, somehow

Soldiers from the other side
Liberated them at dawn
Gave her water, gave her life
She still had all her clothes on
She lived until she died
Empty as the autumn leaves that fly
Surgeons took the mark
But they could not take it far
It was written on her heart
Written on her empty heart

(Janis Ian)