Shrink Wrapped

Lessons learned:

1. Oxycodone is really great stuff–but only the first time you take it. After that, it has no effect. At all.
2. But, after just two doses, if you stop taking it, you get the shakes.
3. Armpit surgery is… well… the pits. Even if the incision is a fraction of the size of the others–that’s the one that’ll make you catch your breath. Who knew?
4. It’s all fun and games until they ask you to remove the shrink wrap, and you realize you should have shaved your entire body before submitting to the knife. Because this:
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5. What’s that you say? never heard of surgical shrink wrap? Yeah, well, it’s the thing now.  It’s like… a cross between plastic wrap and superglue.   I’m going to attempt to remove this one today, as I am beginning to lose feeling in my fingers, but I’m hoping the others will loosen up on their own. Maybe after I  take a shower?  I’m allowed to do that in two hours.
Not…  that anyone’s counting.


Whenever I have looked directly at this thing, I have been totally calm. Cancer. Surgery. Radioactive Iodine. ‘S all good.

But when concentrating on something else, sometimes I have been temporarily seized by an internal tornado of butterflies–or more often, the sensation of ice-water pouring through my veins. My subconscious isn’t listening, apparently, and when my conscious mind stops supervising, the natural man creeps out. I nearly  had a panic attack three times this week, just out of the blue, and had to examine why I was having this physical reaction to something I’d pushed aside, mentally.

Makes me think I should have gone into psychology. It’s a fascinating thing. I’ve had some crazy, crazy thoughts.

But at any rate, yesterday’s surgery went well, I’m told. Although, it was a bit disconcerting when I first checked in, and the second question the receptionist asked was whether or not I have a living will. Followed by “Here, we’re going to give you four shots of radioactive dye, and we’re going to use this Geiger counter during surgery to track where it goes, so we know what to take out.”

I went under shortly before 11am and woke up at 2:30, although I pretended to be out for a while longer: general anesthesia felt lovely. Although, I did keep seeing strange things, like one of my first period students walking around in scrubs, impersonating a doctor. So maybe I wasn’t pretending after all? Had similar hallucinations all the way home.

I was made to solemnly swear not to drive a motor vehicle or shower for 48 hours post-op, so I stayed home today, though I think I would have been fine. I can’t really talk, but I still have my teacher evil-eye down pretty solid. As it is, I just cranked out a lot of paperwork that’s been piling up around here, so it wasn’t a total waste.

I’ve got three sites I haven’t been brave enough to pull bandages off yet, but the publicly visible one–above my right wrist, has a bandage only about 4 inches long, so it’s significantly smaller than the first doc recommended. Within the next week or so, I should hear back if we got clean margins and clear lymph nodes, and if so, we’ll be done with it. Meanwhile I kind of wish I had Geiger counter of my own. There’s got to be something fun a person can do while radioactive. Yes?

Definitely Not Swapped at Birth

I debated, but finally wrote to my daughter in Mexico and explained my upcoming surgery. She, a girl after my own heart, replied with the following:

“Other options to explain your scar, Mom (feasible in Mexico City):

  • You were hanging on to the bus from outside and while passing through the forest got stabbed by a tree branch.
  • You forgot your house keys and had to climb over the guard wall but slipped because it was raining
  • Better option:You tripped and fell on one of the 409837410984751098475109847510984572039485723 pieces of naked rebar sticking out in all parts of Mexico City.
  • You were walking down the street and a drain cover gave way and you fell in….and got stabbed by rebar
  • Or what about this: You got bit by an angry pregnant Akita. Oh wait that´s what happened to me….. But that isn´t actually going to leave a scar because it didn’t really break the skin… that much… But I did get a nerve pinched and I couldn’t bend my fingers for a couple of days. That was a month ago.”

Ha! This is the child who can make jokes about the effects of being bitten by neuro-toxin-spewing scorpions in the night, and tending three deathly ill companions and still isn’t sure she wants to come home.

I knew I taught her well, when she ended the email with this:

“The worst part about you having cancer is that the elder who has been in my zone MY ENTIRE MISSION who always thought that the “my grandpa cut his finger off, my dad shot himself with a nailgun, my brother smashed his foot,” all that kind of stuff was super funny….. Went home last week. Which is unfortunate because every district meeting and zone conference we always swapped stories and then laughed at all of the dumb things that happen to people.”

Yeah… she’s going to be fine.

Bedazzled, Or Parkour

Courtesy of my students, I bring you the latest from the list of Alternative Explanations for the Hole in Mrs. Lybbert’s arm:

#38: She joined the Bloods to run the trap house.

#39: Parkour, gone bad

And yes, I had to beg a definition for trap house. (Oh, the things I didn’t know I didn’t know.)

They also think I should get some cool, elbow length gloves, and be fancy–or at least mysterious.

It is intruguing to me, on the other hand, the reaction adults have to this word “cancer”. It has such a powerful hold on the collective psyche of humans, that I feel a little bit guilty for contracting it–or at least for admitting to it.

If I were considerate, I would have kept the diagnosis to myself, until all danger had passed, wore long sleeves for the rest of my life–or at least until the scars appeared suitably old news, and then brushed off the incident as a mishap occurring long ago, in my youth.

There isn’t, really, a polite way to share this type of news.

Half your associations will believe they should have been told first. The other half (or maybe all of them, secretly) will think you shouldn’t have told anyone at all. Everyone will demand an explanation of how this could have occurred, and the specifics of how soon they might expect your death. Scientific names. Statistics. Timelines.

I, of course, neglected to organize such paperwork in a timely manner. All I have, thanks to a phone call from the clinic, is a vague idea that I have something with a name that sounds suspiciously like an Italian side dish, and that it’s got a mitotic rate fast enough to need immediate attention.

No, really. That’s it. That’s all I know.

And (brace yourselves) I don’t actually want to worry about how that makes you feel. Because isn’t that a choice? If you choose to let a medical diagnosis–yours or someone else’s–frighten you, how is that my responsibility?

Callous of me, I know.

I mean, I could have kept this news to myself until after the surgery. After all, how frightening, really, is something that sounds like pasta?

That would have been the polite thing. I am  not, strictly speaking, dying. I have cancer in my right arm, and its removal is going to leave a noticeable scar. Instead, I chose to share that news myself in several public conversations I controlled the venue and timing of, as opposed to hundreds of individual ones I could not.

Because the truth is, I don’t know that one surgery will fix everything. And I don’t feel like sneaking around in order to protect anyone else’s sensibilities. I have to-do-lists to make and account passwords to compile for the remote Possibility That Something Happens.

Not because I’m frightened or misty-eyed or gloomy–but because that’s what a responsible adult does in these situations. You buckle up, make sure the tank is full, unfold the map, and set out on your journey.

And maybe I’m grotesquely cold-hearted, but that’s actually all I want to do right now.

I appreciate expressions of love, yes. Of course.

But sentimentality isn’t my style.

Elbow length gloves, maybe. We’ll see what my sophomore with the bedazzled crafting obsession comes up with 😉

Because I Fought Back in ‘Nam, or, Zombie Bookworms

She’s 18 years old and too nonchalant for gossip, but she has news and she is dying to verify it. I can see it in the furtive, sidelong jerks of her head, and the cast of her eyes as she whispers with her friends. I think, is she really talking about what I think she’s talking about? Or am I imagining things?

None of my business, right? Class doesn’t start for ten minutes; this is her time, not mine.

And then I get one of those text messages. You know the ones: “Hey, I heard…. Is it true?”

And, yes, actually, it is true. But as I sit there staring at the screen, thinking “How does she know?” I see every one of my students in my mind’s eye, just as nonchalant, but just as bursting with morbid curiosity as the next one.

I’ve taught close to 800 different students who still attend this school. That, Folks, is a substantial grapevine.

So at 7:01 on a Tuesday morning, I stand up in front of first period English, and I start a conversation. It’s the same conversation I begin six more times today–and it gets easier every time. It morphs into a stand-up routine, only… more macabre.

It goes something like this:

Soooo…. Um. I have cancer. Like. Not–cancer, like I’m going to die tomorrow cancer, but cancer like, I’m probably going to be missing some school, and when I come back, part of my arm will be missing, and you’ll either all want to know what happened, and I’ll have to tell you, or, I won’t tell you and there will be lots of rumors, so let’s just name the beast, okay?

Actually, you know what? The rumors will probably be more interesting, so let’s make up our own. What other explanations might you come up with for a gaping hole in Mrs. Lybbert’s arm?

Come on–they are high school kids; after the initial surprise, they think it’s funny. They will add  to the list on the board all week. Here are my favorite alternative explanations for my absence/pending arm deformity:

  • run-in with a unicorn
  • street-fight with a panda
  • zombie bookworm
  • encounter with a rabid student
  • she’s all about that life
  • she fought back in ‘Nam
  • she graded too many essays and lost part of her soul
  • light saber injury, she has; beat Darth Vader, she must

So there you have it: the rest of the story. Or the start of a new one.

Feel free to add  your own items to this list 🙂

The Breasts on my Classroom Window

There are breasts on my classroom window. A voluptuous, detailed set, but just one. I successfully removed the others, along with a multitude of other more… phallic sketches.

This artwork shows up regularly because the bus stop is located outside my windows and what else is a kid to do with more than an hour, plus a drawing utensil, on his hands? I mean, besides hop on a buddy’s shoulders and repeatedly ram his behind against the window, which has also occurred.

Heaven help the poor girl who is trying to teach in my room during that shift; it’s her first year, and she not only has to deal with the numskulls inside the classroom, but the ones outside, as well. I can’t blame her for closing the blinds and ignoring the artwork being crafted beyond them.

It’s just a little disconcerting, every morning, to unveil the windows.

In case you hadn’t heard, we’re running 11 periods a day at Moses Lake High School–starting at seven in the morning and ending at five at night. The theory is that at any given time, only 80% of our students are on campus. In reality, at any given time, only 80% of our students are in the classroom.  The other 20%, well… who knows what they are up to? I can only report what’s going on in my remote corner.

You’d think that someone would be supervising common gathering areas like the  bus stop, and I’m sure that happens, but no amount of adult supervision can cover 100% of the behavior of 2400 teens, 100% of the time.

I’d be willing to bet that the culprits are probably fairly rational people, given a different situation–say, a Sharpie plus their dream car. They’d be outraged if you suggested they draw obscenities all over the bodywork or slam their backpack or fanny into the paint job. They wouldn’t do it.

My question is, how do you awaken a sense of ownership in students for school? How do you awaken them to the incredible opportunity a free education really is? How do you convince teens to value something they have not chosen for themselves?

There will always be gaps in supervision as long as students are not self-regulating–as long as they do not see community assets like schools, and opportunities like schooling, as privilege not punishment.

The district is running a bond right now, and as much as we desperately need the space, dare I suggest that we also need an answer to this question, before we erect yet another edifice for our children to kick against in their resentment of the status quo?

Of Balers, Teens, and Broken Things

There is something supremely satisfying about disemboweling a recalcitrant household appliance (you thought I was going to say “teen”, didn’t you? for shame), locating the source of the problem, and setting everything right again. Every time, I get an urge to pound my chest and roar. I should have been a repairman.

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My broken motor coupling

Speaking of recalcitrant teens, on the other hand, I took my third to the podiatrist. He was given a new cast and instructions to get no more daring than sponge baths. On the way out to the van afterwards, he says, “If using a garbage bag and duct tape–which is a really good idea, by the way–is like playing Russian roulette, then if I use six bags, that’s like taking all the bullets out of the gun first, right?”  Which is, of course, precisely what he is doing.

Also, sewing zippers into the bottom half of his pant leg, with my sewing machine. He’s only broken one needle so far. When I offered to do it for him, he stayed in his seat. “Relax, Ma, it’s just like a baler.”

And so there he sits: my seventeen-year-old, baling his pants. I’m going to bed.