Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April 15 -- not just for taxes anymore

I truly enjoyed last week’s The Onion, which ran a piece entitled, “Jesus, this week.”  It was just what the psychiatrist ordered.  So on-point was this piece, the title alone was Pulitzer-worthy. Check out the link:,32105/

Beyond the Boston Marathon attacks where my daughter-in-law cheered on four workmates at the finish line hours before the bombings…beyond the Thursday FBI photo-release of bomb-suspects and that evening’s ambush of MIT Policeman Sean Collier… beyond the “Shelter In Place” ordered in Watertown and Cambridge where both of my sons and their fiancĂ©es live … beyond all of this was the ongoing journey of our favorite myeloma hero and my personal spousal unit, enjoying a neural-reaction to a new medicine. 

It’s times like these that I find the human psyche impressive.  My personal psyche likes to play a game called, “Which horror shall we focus on now? We can only do one at a time.  Choose wisely.”

By Tuesday, 24 hours post-bombings, he’d enjoyed a similar number of hours on a new medicine designed to combat nerve pain from myeloma therapies.

But instead of racing to his nerve endings, the drug coiled its way inside a piece of brain tissue responsible for generating incorrect emotions. Specifically, emotions wildly disconnected to events unfolding around him.

Oh, he was concerned for his daughter-in-law, his sons, a ski mate that ran in the Marathon. But alongside these concerns rested an uncharacteristically euphoric expectation that his upcoming myeloma blood test would reveal a long-awaited remission. There was no real reason to believe this miracle was en route.  But his emotion-generator was busy generating manic optimism. He even phoned to request his test results early, only to learn he, in fact, was NOT yet in remission. 

This went over… poorly.

The guy is genuinely happy and stable, so – between watching the news to ensure my children’s safety (a ridiculous but essential exercise in magical thinking) I researched his medication. What was my un-surprise to discover this drug caused mood-changes.

My handicapped focus continued to ping-pong between terrorist-updates and Jonathan’s mind-set, between follow-up emails about a family bridal shower thrown the eve of the Marathon, and emails from a realtor alerting us that a buyer wanted to buy – then not buy – then buy a piece of property my husband’s family was selling.

By Wednesday, I was addled.

This happened to be the day Jonathan’s drug-enhanced emotion-generator went into a new mode. His neural tissue now viewed his unchanged myeloma marker-number as a harbinger of stable disease… about which he was ringing peals of personal thanksgiving.

I was busy opening personal bottles of leftover bridal shower wine. 

Wednesday was not one of my finer-moment days.

Thursday wasn’t lots better, given that a member of his oncology team called his cell phone at dinnertime to confess that he had – and I am not making this up – “forgotten” to order his cancer medication.  

Normally it arrives each month on a Thursday or Friday and I sign for it in person. It arrives in a plain brown wrapper, causing my neighbors speculative envy.

I realized there had been no such plain brown-wrapper delivery that day.  And I was curious to know which way this news would spin inside his emotion-generator.

He could not have been more PLEASED to get to drive to Boston the next day to acquire those meds. He hung up as excited as someone who’d learned they’d won the lottery and got to drive to Boston to embark on a ten week cruise to paradise.

 "How inconvenient might it be, Mr. Given, for you to drive to Boston Friday to get your cancer medication in person?  Otherwise, it's not going to arrive until next Tuesday at your home, so you'd miss four days' doses. . . "

“Why, it would be my pleasure to drive to Boston tomorrow.  I’m en route to New Hampshire anyway on some personal real estate business.  See you then!”  

Why not?

Watertown wasn't yet under siege, nor on lockdown; the MIT policeman was four hours from being murdered; the radicalized bomb brothers were not yet minus one bomber in a shootout a few neighborhoods away from the home of our son.

Therefore, it was not spectacularly horrid when my husband’s work called, noting he had to delay his trip to New Hampshire and to Boston for his medicine.  There was a small work crisis afoot.

This was news of monumental good fortune!  “Great!  Now I can get some work done in Natick, go to Beantown and get my Revlimid, come back here to meet you and we can pack up for an afternoon ride. This is working out WONDERFULLY!”  He fairly skipped to bed.  Friday was going to be fun, fun, fun.




I had insomnia from real estate insanity co-mingled with terrorist thoughts, so I was awake when the MIT shooting broke on the news – and even more awake when Watertown was placed on lockdown in the wee hours.

It’s the town my son Zach and his fiancee Marina live in, so I am texting them both – before sunrise – then texting Jake and his Alexandra who live in Cambridge. Also on lockdown. I alerted our third son in Canada just so he could know everyone was safe.

And off Jonathan went in high spirits to his work crisis and his journey into Boston to get his Revlimid.

“But babe,” said I to him, “it seems that maybe everything is on lock-down in Boston.”

“Oh they can’t lock down hospitals.  Everything will be FINE.”

It appears that hospitals are the first places that are locked down. Which Jonathan confirmed late morning.  He called to tell me they are having his medicine mailed out.  “It will arrive next Tuesday. I’ll only miss a few days’ doses so DON’T … You… Worry.”




It is not possible to argue with Happy Neural Tissue.

 I instead went into Execute Mode and rummaged through a special cabinet near my spices reserved for Leftover Medicines.  I save them for special occasions.

Guess what I found?

Enough of his Revlimid medication to get him through Tuesday in the correct dosage.  It was left over from a January prescribing-misadventure. 

Now this stuff is a relative of Thalidomide, so it requires special handling and storage. I confess I didn’t exactly ‘store it’ appropriately in triple wrapped latex-free Hazmat coverings.  It was in its plastic bottle right next to my oregano.

 I’d have called to tell him all of this, but feared the joy he’d experience might cause him to drive into a tree.

So I distracted myself with plans my sister-in-law and I were making to share meal-preparation for Friday, Saturday and Sunday up in New Hampshire where we’d all convene to prep the property for sale. I agreed to “make something yummy.” 

But with Watertown, Cambridge and all of Boston locked down and a manhunt afoot – I couldn’t tear myself from the TV to go buy ingredients. 

By noon it was clear all of the fast-breaking action was neither fast, nor breaking, nor active. So I left the TV room to scour pantry shelves for ingredients, hoping for the same success I’d had unearthing cancer medicine.

I swiftly built a casserole from the only ingredients I could find: five blocks of pre-expired cheese, two boxes of pasta, half a curling zuccini, soy milk, and a hologram of swiss chard SO translucent from age, I almost missed it while reaching for a shallot.

I began assembling the ingredients hoping the Culinary Muses would inspire wizardry, and voila:  I built a casserole to which I added half a can of Pantene … no wait … Progresso-brand Lentil Soup.  It was so amazing I am sharing the non-recipe:

Lockdown Casserole

Take a box of tri-color rotini, whole wheat rotini or any pasta in your cabinet and toss it in boiling water until it is pre al dente.

While the pasta roils away, into a microwave-safe vat toss generic Velveeta, soy milk, aged cheddar, horseradish cheddar, American sandwich cheese and mozzarella  (*or pre-green cheese your particular refrigerator harbors.)  Microwave for as long as it takes to melt – which is way long – so you should stick a spoon in there and give it a good stir to keep apprised of its melt-status.

Drain the pasta and stick in a bucket.

Pour the runny cheese mess over the pasta and stir until your biceps seize. Finish with a half-can of either Pantene-brand Lentil Soup or Progresso. Both work well.

In separate bowl, snip an old shallot with scissors, use the same scissors on withering swiss chard, and use a knife to dice a flaccid zuccini-remnant.  Toss them in seasoned rice vinegar and citrus soy sauce, then fold the whole mess into the Bicep Pasta.

Finish with parsley or anything green, unless it comes from a darkened Rubbermaid vessel.

There you have it:  a casserole made of things in my house on a day I could not leave it.

It was fucking delicious.

While I have your attention, I’d like to discuss the eff-word for a moment.  It’s “The Word” teachers vow never to use but they break that vow daily.

Anyway.  I would like to ask … now that the remaining bomb-brother has been extracted from a boat on property less than a mile from my kid’s home … I want to know … what kind of oncology personnel forgets to order life-saving cancer medication, causing the patient to have to drive into Boston the day he is to start his treatment – except – oops – the whole city is on effing lockdown?

If you choose oncology as your life’s passion, you just do not GET to be human and ‘forget’ to order cancer medicines.

It is just lucky that Carolyn saves leftover drugs. 

I vow to continue to horde every expired antibiotic, sedative and opioid capsule, every ozone-defiling inhaler, every over-the-counter cold elixir containing phenylpropanolamine – an ingredient pulled from the market years ago and I’m never giving mine up. I’m not tossing the used nasal saline nor nasal steroids whose applicators teem with plague spores of random-guests whose nostrils I stuck em in when they arrived at my home complaining of colds and flu.

I’m a giver.

Jonathan arrived home that Friday afternoon, much less elated about things like the sunrise and the fact that his car started.

He was returning to Neural Ground Control.


So I felt comfortable sharing my day.

“Since I was unable to extract myself from the TV, I used every viable house-ingredient and built tonight’s dinner, then I went to the pizza place and got us wraps for the ride to New Hampshire.  I gas’d up the car and deposited money in the bank and guess what?  I can no longer tell you what our balance is. Instead of a deposit slip revealing our balance, I got a receipt.  Like the kind that rolls out of a cash-register only flimsier. It started to compost itself once it came in contact with my skin, but not before it informed me that I had – get this -- just deposited money… then had taken some out. THEN, the receipt instructed me to go a computer somewhere to establish a password and securely read my balance.  The only way we’ll ever know how much we have in the bank is if we close out the account.”

“Yeah, I got an email saying they upgraded the system last weekend.  So this is what they upgraded?”

“Apparently. Anyway, when I got gas, the attendant told me our local Post Office was on lockdown.  It was one more Friday Irritant.  I feel like an oyster.”

“WHY was our post office locked down?”

“Seems all the post offices in the state were on lockdown. They released our local workers to their homes at 1:30 today.”

 “Well that’s good. We don’t wanna keep postal workers locked down much past 2.”

“They locked it down – get this -- in case the marathon bomber car-jacked a mail truck.”

“And the danger would be what, Carolyn? He’d deliver the mail even more poorly than our driver Jan with the wandering eye?”

 His humor had returned with his newly stable mood. 

 Which totally went south once a befouling odor enveloped him. 

“My gawd what is that smell?”

“Oh.  That.  Well.  I’d been awake since 3 am so by 9:30 I was starving.  And there was no food in the house, so I had lentil soup for breakfast.  But just half a can.”

“Where is the other half?  Throw it away now.”

“It’s in my Lockdown Casserole.”

As of Friday, the Marathon Terrorist Attack was responsible for mayhem and misery beyond understanding.

But it was also responsible for napalm-like farts that caused my immune-compromised husband to stagger off ‘to go pack up the car for New Hampshire.’

As the slider closed behind him, I noticed nothing in his hands to pack up.

The ride up was reasonably uneventful, with all four windows rolled down.  We were exhausted for so many reasons, with just enough energy to be grateful our children and their loved ones were safe, that we had each other, that we had that day together.  And that our pulverized hearts still held tightly to the hundreds of families whose lives are irreconcilably broken.

We were tapped out at precisely the right time to be in the sticks without access to news, other than texts from our kids that the second guy was taken alive.  The lock downs, the mayhem, the manhunt.  Those parts ended.

The educator and analyst in me still struggles to make sense of all of this, but how can you make sense of a nightmare?

Meanwhile, the English teacher and literary-device enthusiast in me did discern, albeit obliquely, one “theme” so here it is: During our three-hour road trip last Friday, my Breakfast Lentils caused my guts to feel like a pressure-cooker and my ass sounded like Watertown at 1 in the morning.

Given the circumstances, it’s the best I could do.