Saturday, December 17, 2011

What I wore: plateletpheresis

I’m taking my cue from The Dainty Squid and other bloggers who post pictures of the cute outfits they put together. In my case, I’m showcasing a complete lack of style.

I try to donate platelets every couple of weeks, and I really have to dress for the occasion -- in survival gear that still leaves me free to bare my left arm. The platelet apheresis machines are finicky, and if the vein pressure is too low they alarm... and alarm... and alarm, turning a 90-minute donation into an all day affair. If you’re cold, it can alarm. If deyhdrated, alarm.

The first try at platelets, it seemed it would never end. Alarm. Alarm. Alarm. They moved the needle (Ouch!). Alarm. Another needle adjustment (Ouch!). Alarm. Three or four needle adjustments later (Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!) they let me give up on the second unit.

Now, I dress for the Klondike, demand hot packs and blankets, and slam so much water I feel faintly nauseous. The outfit for today: turtleneck thermal top, longjohns under flannel-lined Carhartts, Tour de Prairie (37 miles!) t-shirt, sleeveless zip hoodie from a spaving expedition to Kohl’s, and thrifted black Converse high-tops. Plus, one of those groovy earlflap Columbia wool hats and a polarfleece scarf. They buried me under 3 giant blankets and gave me a baby bottle of hot water to squeeze.

Probably looks silly to the whole blood donors who’ve never tried to appease the angry gods of the apheresis machine, but it works. At the end, I get a black bandage to match the t-shirt and tennies, and instructions not to take it off for 4 hours.

The blood bank keeps a list at their front desk of patients served recently. I look for those that might have used what came out of my arm. This week, there were a baby and a 64-year-old man who both needed platelets, and could have taken A-negative. Maybe they were mine, or maybe they’ll go to the next baby or grandfather in the hospital. It’s an ego trip.

I don’t have other volunteer opportunities where I can take 3 hours out of my weekend and possibly save someone’s life. I don’t have the time, resources or inclination to go dig wells in Haiti. I don’t have any particular skills that involve lifesaving. As an introvert with marginal social skills, I’m glad of something to do that doesn’t require me to actually interact with people, other than the phlebotomists.

I’ve been through thyroid cancer, I’m used to getting needles in the arm. I’ve got a nice, big vein down the center of the left one. I have plenty of platelets. I bleed easily, reseal quickly and have the patience to sit still if I can only have a book in my hands. I guess every girl has to have a talent.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

First cross-country ski of the season

The streets are in that perfect state of snowpack after vehicles have driven on it, but before they’ve worn through it. The sun is shining, but not so much yet to destroy the snow.

I strap on the cross-country gear and ski circles around the neighborhood for an hour. The snow is thin, but sturdy, and the skis glide smoothly even as the pole tips hit pavement each time I plant them.

It’s heaven.

All things being equal, I’d rather exercise outdoors. If it’s warm, I want to be on a bike. When it’s cold, I want to be on skis. All things are not always equal around here, though. The single best word to describe weather here is “violent.” Thirty or forty mile an hour sustained winds. Snowstorms with blizzard winds that leave 4 feet of snow on my front porch and the faintest dusting on parts of the lawn. Golf ball sized hail that strip the trees, leaves falling like rain. The highways close on a semi-regular basis.

Nice mornings like this one, though, are heaven. Even better when I get in a meditative kick and glide, feel sun on my face, get a little downhill speed going on the next block. I’m not a racer, more of a long, slow distance person, and it feels like I could do this all day.

The snow is better and the traffic lighter on the east-west streets, but I like the modest hill on the north-south run. I step aside and wave when I see cars. Some of them wave back and give me an encouraging smile. Others drive by with a look of bewilderment, wondering what on earth I’m doing in the road.

On another day, I’ll take the car and go up to the real ski trails up the hill 30 miles an hour. It’ll be a day when the roads aren’t still “slick in spots” and there’s no blowing snow near the summit. For now, I’m grateful I live where the snowplows don’t run.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

When self-care goes to hell

I feel semi-human again. At lunch, I took time to cook homemade tomato soup, make myself some coffee, fix tuna with avocado mayo.

I feel most like myself when I am in the kitchen by myself, cooking good food, listening to public radio, maybe with some snow on the ground outside the window but warm inside. It reminds me of being a ski bum, when I cooked from scratch all the time out of financial necessity. As a child, it was in the kitchen that I felt closest to my mother, working alongside her. In college, when I became stressed, I’d start cooking something... anything. No recipe required.

There are times in life when self-care goes out the window, and the last couple of months have been one of them. I knew it would happen. I knew I had too many classes on my plate and that it would be a slog toward the end.

It’s time now to get back to center. Soup is a good start. With that, here’s the recipe:

Quick no-sugar tomato soup:

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
1 shallot, or ½ onion, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, minced
1-2 cups water
1 bouillon cube
1 sweet potato
3 large tomatoes, or 1 can no-salt chopped tomatoes
¼ - ½ tsp each basil, thyme, rosemary
salt/pepper to taste

Saute shallot or onion in oil over medium-low heat until translucent. Add garlic and cook about 1 minute, just until fragrant. Add water and bouillon and turn heat to high. In the meantime, cook sweet potato in the microwave until soft, peel and chop. Also, if using fresh tomatoes, peel and chop. (The skin slips right off if you dunk them in boiling water for a minute.) Toss sweet potatoes, tomatoes and herbs in the pot. Cook on medium-high for a little bit -- 10 to 15 minutes ought to do it. Mash it up with a potato masher for a chunkier soup or blend until as smooth as you want.