Thursday, November 30, 2017

Big Bird: A Thanksgiving Tale

Every year, I go to the same farmer's market and ask for an enormous turkey, "at least eight kilos! Twelve would be better!" I explain we need the bird for the American holiday, Thanksgiving, and that we're having between ten and fifteen guests. Every year, the farmer gives me a bird that, although organic, juicy and delicious, weighs less than eight kilos. Well, once we had one that came in at 11.73 kilos.
 With plenty of stuffing, pints of cranberry-orange relish, two batches of corn muffins, multiple vegetables, pies, we've always had enough to go around and enough for turkey sandwiches the next day. But this year, we were having sixteen guests, maybe more, and I stood on my toes and begged for a bigger bird. The farmer looked down at the pathetic American: "Well, perhaps ten to thirteen kilos," he said, as if he wished I would go away, and then, as always, the night before Thanksgiving, I went through my usual tortures: What if he forgets? What if my husband and I go there at 7:30 in the morning, the way we always do, and the man says he forgot? What if we have to go to the supermarket and get a frozen bird?
I tossed and turned.
At 7:30 the next morning, we went to the market, trundling our little red shopping cart behind us, me grumbling my obsessive worries about the turkey, my husband trying to get me to make a list of everything we hadn't yet purchased and needed.
We saw the farmer and waved. His wife started looking for the bird, and she poked around in the back of their stand long enough for visions of horrible frozen turkeys to start dancing in my head.
With a leer, the farmer lobbed a gigantic thing up onto the counter. Almost 16 kilos, and the most expensive bird we've ever purchased, at approximately 140 euros. 
I could barely lift it.

One very heavy bird (35 pounds, American)

Between the two of us, my husband and I got the thing into the red shopping cart. We had no room for the vegetables and potatoes. 
All the way home we wrestled with the dread possibility: What if that thing didn't fit in our oven? 
"We  could cut off the legs," my husband offered. "It won't be pretty, but . . ."
The thought of an amputated turkey just broke my heart, but I agreed to his solution--anything was better than a cold, uncooked turkey and sixteen unhappy guests. 
The bird didn't fit in our turkey pan! Crisis!
It did fit in our large baking pan, the one that fills a whole shelf on the oven. Barely. With its legs almost pressing against the glass.
Pre-trussing. Oh, did I tie those legs together

For the first time in all the decades I've prepared Thanksgiving turkey, every bit of stuffing actually fit into the bird. I trussed up the opening the way you'd lace a pair of very large boobs into a Bavarian dirndl, and tied up the legs the way a sadist might fetter a victim. I closed the oven door and baked the bird for a whole six hours. 
Two strong men were needed to carry the majestic beast to the table, and we feasted for hours.
The bird that didn't fit in the turkey pan .
A little bit of turkey skin is still stuck to the back of my oven, though.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Access Trump: Locker Room Talk

"Sir, does the president still accept the authenticity of the Access Hollywood tape?" 
We didn't get much of an answer. Nobody expected one. The real question is why anyone's asking when we know what kind of answer we'll get.
Would I rather have Francis Underwood as President? Don't we already? Frank's charm is, perhaps, more dangerous than Donald's "Yeah, I said I apologized, but actually, that doesn't work with the conversation now, so I didn't do it." If Chuck Schumer mysteriously drops dead tomorrow, I'll know who's behind his sudden demise. That scene in House of Cards in which Spacey whips out a blade, terrorizes his tough, Hillary Clintonish secretary of state, who's just snapped, "I'm not afraid of you!" must be all too real. 
The kicker would be Melania turning out to be Claire Underwood, that steel magnolia Lady Macbeth. Melania's style might be more that of Livia, the wife of Augustus Caesar, who allegedly sweetly poisoned him. If I were Melania I'd want to poison my husband. But I suppose I wouldn't actually do that, because I'd want some real revenge. I'd think of something much more embarrassing. You wouldn't want to make him a martyr, done in by the young wife he trusted so much, would you? But you'd find a way to get those taxes out there. You'd find a way to remove him to the very same facility as Harvey Weinstein. You'd get him on his knees, wouldn't you? 
You go, girl.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Ballet Boo-Boo

What was I thinking? Demonstrating a jig in high heels on a hard floor? One leap into second position and a muscle in my upper thigh groaned.
It was like this: my students were reading Laura Ingalls Wilder, the part where the grandma wins the jigging contest. They didn't know what a jig was. I thought I'd demonstrate.
Despite that rather sharp and sudden pain, I'd thought all I needed was a very hot bath. I'd feel okay by the end of the day. 
But that slightly exploited muscle announces its painful presence every time I walk up stairs or try to run.
Actually that jig was more of a highland fling.
Massage? Blackroll? Red wine? Half a jar of Tiger Balm? Next ballet class swathed in sweats? Tincture of time?
Oh, that particular commodity, time, is in such short supply.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Palbociclib Blues, Part Two

I've been in a clinical trial--Penelope B--for five cycles of what is presumed to be Palbociclib, the Pfizer drug marketed under the name Ibrance, and which is now used to extended the lives of women with metastatic breast cancer. Which I'm lucky not to be enduring. Last April, after sixteen chemos, two operations, and twenty-eight cycles of radiation, I got to keep my breast, minus eleven lymph nodes, and was declared cancer-free. I take a nightly tablet of Letrozol (2.5 mg), which is supposed to prevent a recurrence, and side effects include feeling old--I call Letrozol my miracle aging pill, and counteract the stiff hands with one of those rubber porcupine balls that I squeeze any chance I get. I take ballet and tap when I feel well, which is not lately.
Since I my tumor was small (Stage 1b) but aggressive (Grade 3) I was eager to take part in a clinical trial designed to further reduce any chance of recurrence.
During the last five weeks, I've been experiencing side effects. Two rounds of antiobiotics (Twenty tablets of  1000 mg of Amoxicillin-Trihydrat followed by ten days of Cefuroxim 500 mg twice a day) were not quite enough to get rid of the bronchitis against which I could not defend myself, my low white cell count, a common side effect, remaining insufficient to jump start my immune system's normal efficiency. As I type, I'm still snuffling with my endlessly stuffed nose, popping a Sinupret three times a day, and coughing.
So would it be worth my while to continue on this clinical trial? According to Dr. Second Opinion (but I did consult him before the bronchitis, when my only real complaint was the unusual fatigue) "Yes, yes, yes!" He whipped out charts and graphs, none of which I understood, but I banked on his enthusiasm for the figures, which clearly meant something.
 I've never needed a second round of antibiotics for any throat or lung infection, except for the time I had pneumonia more than eight years ago, when my kids were very young and I never got enough sleep, and ended up in the hospital.
So I asked, and am asking anyone who knows, the following questions, since the leaders of the study I am in don't really have definite answers, and perhaps no one does:
 (1) With the 2,5 mg. of Letrozol daily that I now take, what is your best estimate of a cancer recurrence without the Palbociclib? I know that some women take a higher dose of Letrozol. What difference would that make?
(2) What are the long-term consequences--in terms of exposure to viruses, bacteria, cancer--of the low white cell count that I now have?And how would anyone really know the answer?
(3) Can you say for sure that this medication benefits me, personally? Is it possible it only benefits the study?
By the way, my blood was tested, as usual, at the hospital, now that I just have a cold instead of bronchitis, and was pronounced fine. In fact, good! I could start taking the Palbociclib again right away!
Before, I felt fine but my blood looked just awful.
Is it possible there's no test to measure correctly the effect of Palbociclib on my blood? Theoretically, there may be no medical reason for me to feel lousy when my blood looks dandy. And dandy is how it looks, folks. But I feel anything but.
When I Google patient information, I get what everyone already knows. When I Google medical studies, I get, for example, this: but I feel inadequate to the task of interpreting the data. I don't understand the charts and I don't understand the medical lingo. I did ask my doctor, and she probably would not want to be quoted, so I will just say that my impression of what she said, strictly my very own interpretation, legally distinct from whatever may actually have emerged from her mouth, is that the German government needs to find ways to save money, because this extremely expensive drug, which I am getting for free, costs too much, so if one study says the tumors get smaller but the life expectancy remains the same, then that's a way of broadcasting the conclusion that too much money is being spent (notice how I deliberately used the passive voice there?) The criteria of good care is increased life expectancy. And one truth is still that it's really hard to tell what treatment or what drug did the increasing. 
If I had metastatic breast cancer, I'd down this drug with no complaints. What's a month of bronchitis when you get to live?
But I don't. I want to live the way I like to live.  So tell me, doctors, prophets, women with the same experience, anybody who knows more than I do (I really hope some brilliant cancer researcher is reading this): SHOULD I STAY ON THIS CLINICAL TRIAL or SHOULD I GO?

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Where Was Brianna Brochu's Mom?

I can't help wondering whether she's as horrified as I am when I Google the measly "five facts"--Brianna's "an actress" who hails from Harwinton, a scenic New England town filled with wide open spaces and big white churches, complete with steeples. Litchfield County isn't as rich as Fairfield, the home of Old Greenwich. But Harwinton's website and the pre-mugshot photos of Brianna, one of her holding a fat pumpkin against a backdrop of fall leaves, intimate prosperity. Brianna's wide grin suggests, with the twenty-twenty vision of hindsight, Salome with the head of John the Baptist.
That her parents accompanied her to her arraignment, that somebody paid that $1,000 bail (only a thousand? Really?) suggests enough familial concern  to want to keep her out of jail, or at least a hope that the case will evaporate sooner if Brianna's out on bail.
I'm left with the usual unanswerable questions: Did her parents ignore her? Are they racists? Is Brianna trying to get their attention by doing something outrageous, or is she just a girl with a serious personality disorder and sweet, concerned parents? Is the whole incident something to be pinned on Brianna forgetting to take her meds?
We're not likely to get the real answer, but I continue to speculate: did she and her roommate fight over a boy? Or was it just the radiator, which Brianna wanted off (how like a New Englander) and Chennel ("Jazzy") Rowe, from Queens, New York--turned up. I'm siding with Rowe on that radiator!  My New England step-siblings always seemed not to notice when the house was freezing, and never bothered with their sweaters. For a native New Yorker, New England is chilly, in atmosphere as well as attitudes. That certain reticence--with which Brianna seems not to be afflicted--is still there.  
I can't know her motives, but observe the following, as an English teacher: Ms. Brochu writes well for a college freshman--vividly--and the well-constructed sentence that proved her undoing is a model of parallel verbs and the kind of humor you'd tolerate in villains of summer beach reading:

After 1 1/2 month of spitting in her coconut oil, putting moldy clam dip in her lotions, rubbing used tampons on her backpack, putting her toothbrush places where the sun doesn't shine, and so much more I can finally say goodbye Jamaican Barbie.

Spitting, putting, rubbing putting (again--repetition--she might have said "sliding" or even "hiding" but I can hardly fault her grammar.  True, there ought to have been a comma before the "I." Her choice of poisons--moldy clam dip, menstrual blood, and excrement--are not what you'd find in a Dan Brown novel, but one of his miscreants poisons an allergic man with peanut dust. 
What a shame Ms. Brochu's imagination took such a dark turn--that a bright girl like her would go to so much effort to harm someone who'd tried to be a good roommate and who appears to have done her no wrong--apart from having been born with a different skin color. 
But really, Ms. Brochu, really? 
It's still so hard for me to believe either that a girl who is educated enough to construct a sentence is that malicious--though of course I ought to know better. I do believe that education, rather than punishment, is the real answer to dealing with folks like Brianna Brochu, but the kind of education I'm thinking of usually devolves to parents--especially moms. Which returns me to my original question: Did Brianna do something of which her mother actually approves?