I’ve been thinking a lot lately about risk, consequence, and personal responsibility.
Risk comes into play at work, in my personal time, in my hobbies… really everywhere. I don’t consciously acknowledge risk all the time – there are too many little risks, and the big ones can be awfully scary. If I startle one of the cats sleeping next to me, she might flee across me instead of away. With claws. If our project plan at work is incomplete, we will miss our launch deadline. If a horse spooks and bolts, I lose my stirrups, and the horse veers left toward the jumps, I must calculate the risk of controlling a fall now vs. introducing my head to a wooden standard. Well, I know how that last one turned out and this broken ankle (however severe) isn’t the worst of the possible consequences I could have faced last Tuesday.
If a girl goes to a party and engages in underage drinking, she’s running the risk of becoming intoxicated or being drugged, or just making choices she’ll regret in the morning. If the people at that party take utterly egregious and unforgivable advantage of her while she’s unconscious, they bear the risks of it ending up in prosecution, conviction, jail time, and lifelong stigma. With regard to Steubenville, everyone was young, dumb, and making incredibly bad decisions that night. While she placed herself at some degree of risk, the people around her were disgustingly, horrifyingly willing to take her as an object, not a person. Pebble of her responsibility, meet the mountain of their failure to take theirs. They risked the legal consequences and so I have no pity for their receipt of those convictions.
Many of my generation, in my particular part of the world, benefited from sex ed before it became an exercise in inserting one’s head into the sands of teen hormones and employing wishful thinking in lieu of knowledge. The way we combat the consequences of sex – those life changing outcomes of teen pregnancy, of disease, of rape, of mortal sin – is by knowing the risks and promoting personal responsibility. Teens gonna teen. Temptation can be avoided or ignored, but when it becomes inescapable I pity those who don’t understand what they’re getting into. The problem is, when we reduce sex ed to “avoid it or else” we also lose the opportunity to talk about romantic interactions, consent, abuse, and emotional consequences. Let alone disease.
I recalled the memory below in response to my friend Mike’s blog post this weekend: Neocolonial private
In a very crowded gate area in Phoenix last summer, a girl set up her yoga mat and luggage right at the end of the Southwest Airlines queue. She went through a full sun salutation series plus extra poses for about 30 minutes, with people crowding around her and even rolling bags across her mat near her head. When she was finished, she sat up and complained wryly that “no one respects sacred space.” I was amused and held my tongue. Who am I to tell her she can’t practice?
Setting up such a private space in the midst of public bustle risks interruption and intrusion. It’s just the nature of the crowded space. While she had the right to use her luggage as she saw fit within the public space, other people also had the right to get to their next flights and use what was designated as a walking area to do so. Personally, I would have claimed the space between the flight attendants’ desk and the window – much lower traffic – and brought a cardboard sign saying “sacred yoga space: please do not interrupt. I can answer questions when I am finished.”
I don’t have a good way to combine these situations in some elegant literary conceit – save that risk is inherent in all of them. I choose not to drink and drive, I chose to jump rather than fall, and I accept that I have only a few square inches at my disposal when I’m in a public space.
Yet, I think, they all reflect a certain level of maturity – not that I set myself on a pedestal! – an acceptance of consequences and a measuring of those consequences against their possible reward. Do I regret? Yes. Do I learn? Yes. Would I choose differently? I don’t know. I do know, though, that I have made it through these doorways to the me of a few years later. I am lucky, but I am not wise.
One of the side-effects to a life spent online, particularly in such social networking locales as Facebook, is the ability to go back and review some of the more interesting moments. If you’re a Facebook user or news junkie, you’re probably aware of the new Timeline format. Say what you will about the layout itself, I for one appreciate the review tools available with it.
Aside from some ill-conceived misadventures (some romantic and mischievous, and occasionally both), the memories are pretty damn sweet. I suppose it’s symptomatic of our generation that I can trace my marriage (?!) back to a few chance comments on a then-friend’s wall. If that is the case, then I owe this service the continuation if not origin of my most cherished friendships. I would not have thought this a dozen years ago. Maybe a decade ago? No, we were still on AIM and email at best, or Livejournal for the initiated few. For one of my lifestyle and inclinations, the internet and its various social niches may be the only way I could have kept in touch with a certain few. Yes, I’m looking at you, the globe-trotters and hermits of my world.
It’s also become the means to reconnect (or, in a few cases, connect for the first time) with classmates from the long ago, the before-times. There’s a decade reunion coming up – if we’re going by the calendar, the anniversary is in just two or so weeks – at the end of the summer for those of us who endured Villanova. I think there’s maybe one person in my class with whom I’ve had any sort of meaningful friendship within the last five years, but through the Power and Glory of the Internet (praise be!) I can not only catch up with the old friends but actually, possibly, find out who some of my classmates actually are behind their old yearbook photos. I’m sure I wasn’t always this person – I have access to the journal entries and old blog posts documenting the path to the me of now – and I am suspicious that the majority of my classmates may not have been who they are now. Did I miss out on knowing them then? Or is it only now that we might be compatible acquaintances? I also grow convinced that I like the me of now better than the I of now might have liked the me of then.
I think that had I attained adulthood a decade earlier, I might not have had this realization. We might have shown up to this thing (or not, as the case may still be) holding to our teenage impressions and disinterests rather than connecting online beforehand. Will it lessen the impact of the reunion? I think not, as statistically only a few of us have gotten into that online circle of pre-reuniters, but I am surprised at the names of those who have joined it thus far.
I think I’ll go. Had the online bits not happened, I wouldn’t have had so much peer pressure – or interest – and would have shrugged it off.
On an unrelated note, looking back at the wall-to-wall flirtations with David makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. Yes, you’re excused. I don’t need to see your nausea to know that we’re disgustingly cute sometimes.
This is not the best post in the world, this is only a tribute.
Y’know, just in case anyone is still checking this place out.
There’s another loss I’ve yet to put in writing. I mean, I’ve certainly done my share of memorializing, both online and off, but I have not yet admitted this particular loss in this place.
Greg died six months ago.
It doesn’t make the loss any more or less stark, for I have spent those six months adjusting to life without him. Like a scar, the pain is still there in my memory but I have healed enough to make a space for it.
So much has happened. Each time I visit a place that I had shared with this dear friend of ours I catch myself disappointed that he is not somehow hiding there, and I add another layer to the palimpsest of memories.
I have grieved with those who loved him. We have passed through our own milestones, the ones we’ll continue to experience without him. I have been married to David about half as long as we have been without our friend. I wept a bit, both for happiness that day and for sadness that Greg hadn’t been there for the enthusiastic group hugs.
The thing that’s really brought it all back is not this arbitrary passage point of time, not the birthday or the wedding photos. It’s Guild Wars 2. This online game that Alli got us all hooked on, that Greg mastered, that provided the excuse for so many gut-busting laughter-filled nights and virtual adventures together… well, the next edition is coming out this year.
Go ahead, no really, he would have laughed at me too.
We’re such nerds, we friends in this pixelated galaxy of ours, and Greg was kind of the gravitational well that we all orbited. It wasn’t just Guild Wars, but that was a place where we’d gather even when we weren’t in the same time zone. We go through phases, where we’ll each game a lot or a little or not at all, but there was always this virtual space waiting for us whenever we needed to escape from stress or hang out with friends. And by the gods of Tyria, it’s just not right that Greg’s missing the next chapter.
You see, while he may not have been the most sociable of people offline, Greg (The Deathmonger, our guild leader) was the unflappable, long-burning coal that kept our guild, the Flaming Turtles, going. Alli may have gotten us going, but Greg was the one who’d patiently research whatever it was that our avatars needed to achieve in order to make it to the next level or adventure or sweet set of armor. He also provided a lot of starter gold for the newbies, so that they could catch up to the rest of us. Not all the way, just far enough that the guild could have fun together. If it was on his calendar, he would never ditch a guild night. He was great at befriending people online, too. I think some of the most shocked people we had to tell in the days after his death were the ones that he’d met through this game – as one said, “Greg was an institution for me.” It wasn’t that he was always online, it was that he cared deeply and was totally reliable.
He was the same dear friend outside the game too, of course. It wasn’t just the hours in-game that we cherish having had with him. There were camping trips and 4-H adventures, visits to the Bay traded for weekends in Davis, road trips and dim sum and kitchen mishaps. Long talks well after midnight about everything from physics to memes to music to the convoluted friendships and romances we all pursued. I trusted Greg absolutely, with any secret he and I cared to share, and I know the others in our circle did too. It’s easier to talk about the in-game than the offline absence.
When we were in Seattle together back in September 2010, our little guild attended PAX (a gaming convention) with the express intent of getting all the knowledge and swag and geek street cred we could about the upcoming new edition of Guild Wars. The last major chapter in Guild Wars 1 was released, what, nearly five years ago? Guild Wars 2 has been in the works for at least that long, and any crumb of information about it has had us – especially Greg – fascinated. This thing is finally going to see the light of beta testers this month.
So here’s the bit that Greg really would have laughed at, with all the wickedly dry humor he possessed. This is not, not by any means, the reason we miss him, but it does remind us of how thoroughly he was woven into the structure of our lives. I realize that what I am about to relate will paint a rather cold picture if you’re not snarky like we are, but I am convinced that he would want me to share the joke.
He was so into this game that he had not only his own set of ten fully developed characters, but he also had been given at least one other account when a friend gave up the game. This other account was the mule. The one whose expanded storage space we all used for our extra in-game loot. High-level weaponry, fancy armor, valuable trinkets and color-blinding dyes for all our characters’ accessories… We all invested in the Bank of Greg. Some of this stuff that our characters earned is going to be brought forward as “heirlooms” and whatnot into the new chapter, so we’re talking virtual family vaults here.
It was always safe to store your loot with Greg, because Greg would log on every few days if only to check in with the guild. He was honest and helpful, and we knew he would never get hacked.
Because Greg was an engineer. Greg was obsessed with security. Even for his dedicated family, Greg’s 50+character, multi-step encrypted passwords are – still, six months later – utterly impenetrable.
This weekend I shared a visit to Seattle with many of our friends from the last deployment. It was a lovely wedding. Raucous laughter and creative imbibing ran rampant through the streets of the city. We’ve all scattered since then – some in Texas, some in New Jersey, some still pursuing whatever it is they do in combat zones overseas.
David is one of those last, again. It’s his third business trip overseas, my second here at home, and our first with Afghanistan. Connectivity is markedly reduced from last time, but still far exceeds what we were led to expect. I’ll take it, gladly. It means splitting the difference between occasional video chats on Skype (a rare and cherished luxury from last trip) and postal mail alone. We’re able to use Google Chat and email. David can check in on Facebook. As I said, we’ll take it.
I felt simultaneously right at home with this group who’d been through it with him before, and yet apart. I remember that feeling of being split from last time. Savoring the connection with people who understand. Spending a nonzero percentage of my attention (varying with what is occurring) imagining what it would be like to have David here in the same moment, planning my later report to him of its happening. It’s not that I don’t experience things fully when David is deployed – more that a small part is continually recording, evaluating, determining whether this merits a mention or a full recap when we connect later, deciding whether I ought represent myself or include his preferences and interests in whatever it is I’m doing. Sometimes these experiences are just my own, sometimes I do the “living vicariously” thing.
At the end of the weekend, though, I am glad to have spent it in that place and with those people. I’d forgotten how much the Sound became my home while we were living there, I was surrounded by dynamic weather (blizzard, rain, brilliant sunshine, painterly skies), and the party rolled on. I dearly wish David could have been there – we’ve already caught up on some of the events – but I’m glad to have been reminded that these things do pass and the relationships we’ve built will last through the separations.
Oh, right, it was my birthday weekend, too. St. Patrick’s Day wedding, birthday shenanigans, our 3-month wedding anniversary… a lot to pack into a mere three days.
Had I to plan it over again, I might have returned Sunday or Tuesday. Spending one’s birthday on a plane, with a variety of delays in the Atlanta airport, ought not be repeated. I missed choir rehearsal and a number of celebratory birthday phone calls due to Delta’s logistical gaps. Alas.
Pardon, I’ve just been interrupted. There are now two dozen chocolate-dipped strawberries awaiting my attention. My in-laws are great.
Nag me and I’ll post the Wedding Ceremony Decoder. Evidently we were nerdy enough that the whole internet needs to know about it.
Top dish of the week? Fresh dark red strawberries with homemade Nutella whipped cream.
Worst dish of the week – mind you this is only Wednesday and I am utterly confident of this judgement – wait for it…
How Now Brown Cow “chocolate wine.”
It tastes like fermented Jell-O chocolate pudding. Seriously. Do not try this novelty. All that cures the aftertaste is Arrogant Bastard ale. Yes, dear father, thank you for introducing me to this glorious panacea.
The world … it grows … darker… my … tongue… gives … up.
Spoiler: everyone’s fine, no one got hurt, and Mom owes Nick a bottle of wine.
So. 27 years, practically to the minute, from my momentous birth, I celebrated its anniversary in the ER of Sierra Vista, Arizona’s regional health center. Not hospital. Sierra Vista does not have a hospital.
Why was I in the hospital? Oh, it’s an entertaining story.
On Friday (the day before my birthday), we had plans to attend a friend’s murder mystery dinner party and bring a bottle of wine. After a normal day of work, I went and got my nails all did, came home, got a call from David on his way home from class, ran an errand with David, and realized that I was having language troubles. Sometimes I can be sloppy with enunciation, and I’d noticed that I was doing that a bit while we were out. Then I noticed that I wasn’t able to pick words on the fly. This was a new development, as I’d been in phone meetings all day with no trouble. Time: 5-5:30 PM.
I remembered the word for what I was experiencing: Aphasia.
In short, aphasia is a neurological symptom that affects the ability to use language. Some kinds of aphasia cause issues with comprehension, some with expression. In my case, I had trouble remembering words for concepts, retaining in words the memory of complex conversations, and clearly enunciating complex words. I had very clear thoughts but in images, not words. I didn’t have any problem reading (that I recall) but couldn’t compose.
Aphasia is a common symptom for stroke or TIA (transient ischemic attack or “mini-stroke”). Some of you may know that there’s a Nobel laureate back in my lineage who did lots of research on how the two sides of the brain interact – one of his key studies had lobotomy subjects trying to name objects. They knew what the objects were but couldn’t access the vocabulary to name them. That’s more or less what I was experiencing, and I remembered that Broca’s area is in the left hemisphere, so I started making sure that all my limbs were fully under my control, there wasn’t any tingling, etc. etc.
What can I say, I’m a nerd.
Anyway, I asked David to keep an eye on me. I also realized that I was thirsty, so I started drinking water. More on that in a bit. The aphasia got worse, to the point where I was upset and starting to gather up all my medical insurance information, and we headed to the ER. Remember, Sierra Vista does not have a hospital. They have a Regional Health Center that has a small ER, and good lord was that waiting room crowded. David got me checked in and explained the symptoms, I gave him my insurance ID number and relevant bits of health history (allergy to benzoyl peroxide, normal bp/pulse/respirations, no history of this kind of thing, I’d been thirsty, etc.) and we settled down to wait. Time: 6 PM.
I started getting the powers of speech back around 6:30. Steady improvements from then on. I continued sipping water and doing little mental exercises to make sure that I was retaining my vocabulary. This is a chair. That is a purple scarf. My goodness, I don’t think that woman could wear a shorter or tighter skirt on those legs. I am comprehending everything that I’m reading (The System of the World, by Neal Stephenson. Very complex, very satisfying read, if a bit hard to get into at first).
This is my experience.
Triage nurse finally sees me around 7:30 or 8 PM. I kind of give up watching the clock by this point. I have full powers of speech. She takes my blood pressure reading, gets a more detailed history, and sends me off to get all registered.
We wait. We grow a little hungry. I read up on aphasia and return to my e-book, all on my incredible little iPhone. Thank the deities of technology for the iPhone. David dozes off. We wait. David awakens. I send him off to get himself dinner and pick me up some yogurts or parfaits or some such. I wait. Finally I get invited back to the treatment rooms. It’s around 9:30 or 10 PM.
Patient advocate comes by. I request some sort of medical professional to actually come take a look at me.
David returns with noms.
I go nom-nom-nom upon the first of the yogurts. As if by magic, my eating appears to summon a nurse. She tells me I’m lined up for a head CT and some bloodwork.
Nurse #2 comes by to collect me for the head CT around midnight. I think. At this point we’re half-asleep. Nurse #2 tells me to start “kicking up a fuss” if I haven’t heard back from anyone on the results in about 40 minutes. I give them until 1 AM. I read my e-book.
It’s 1 AM. I hit the page button. It lights up a bulb outside my curtain and I hear a beeping noise.
I hit the page button again. It doesn’t refresh the beeping. I am sad.
I eat the second thing of yogurt.
It’s 1:10 AM. Nurse #3 comes by and I complain about the wait. I explain that I understand it takes a while to evaluate CTs, that they have other patients to see, but that I am tired and scared and cranky, and by the way, why haven’t they taken my blood? It’s been an hour. Also, as it’s past midnight, the age on my ID wristband is now incorrect. I am now 27 years old.
WARNING – discussion of needles and pain and blood. Here there be squeamishness.
Nurse #3 starts gathering the implements of bloodletting. A bit of background – I last had blood drawn my senior year of high school, when I donated a pint. It made me woozy and I ended up fainting halfway through Civics class – and not because of Mr. Snively’s videos. I don’t have a particular fear of needles, but blood draws don’t play well with me. Nurse #3 goes for the left elbow. There’s not a whole lot there, but he does get the needle in and has a hell of a time filling even one tube. I get lightheaded and gaspy and clammy, he wiggles the needle trying to get more blood, we come to a mutual agreement that this is Not Working Out So Well. We double-check the blood pressure and O2 saturation, and I relish the momentary respite for my blood vessels.
He goes and gets Nurse #4. She inspects all arm joints for possible sites, and settles on the right elbow. She then proceeds to cut off nearly all circulation to my arm while tapping the vein successfully with an IV/needle combo. The tourniquet is removed. She thinks about it and leaves the IV in, “just in case.” I see the logic of this approach, as just getting a bit of blood out of my miserly veins is torment enough. We wait.
It’s now about 2 AM. Nurse #3 pops in and asks if I’m diabetic, as the only thing they’ve found is a glucose spike. I point to the empty yogurt-and-fruit containers and say “remember how I was just finishing these up when you drew blood?” We explain that I am not a diabetic and have no history that would indicate such.
We … wait for it … wait.
It’s 2:30. 27 years ago, give or take an hour for Daylight Savings, I was born. I post something to this effect on Twitter, because what the hell else am I going to do at this hour to celebrate my birthday?
The heavens open up, the angels burst forth with fiery trumpets and flaming swords and various other fripperies … for LO! The DOCTOR arriveth!
“When it comes to neurological events, good things come and go, bad things come and stay.” This phrase is repeated by him about 3 times over the next 10 minutes.
He explains that my head CT is clean (Doc: “There was nothing there.” Us: “Well, that explains a few things…” Doc: “No, I mean, no indications of an injury or stroke.” Us: *amusingly disappointed*) and that the glucose spike corresponds to the yogurt snarfing. No kidding. I ask if there were any other indications that should be checked out. He does some neuro field tests – checking muscle tone, visual tracking, etc. I’m normal. Nada, nothing, zip, zilch. Just some random aphasia. I ask if the dehydration (since I was thirsty) could be a cause, he says “not in my experience, but who knows.” He says it wasn’t a stroke, wasn’t a TIA, there are no remaining symptoms to examine, and that it’s an “unexplained event.” If it happens again, I’m to go find a neurologist and get my head examined again.
It’s 3 AM. Nurse #3 takes the IV out. I sign my release papers, which read “confusion” under Diagnosis. We go home. I sleep.
It is now Saturday. David has awakened me, we head to our weekend haunt (Starr Pass, this awesome resort near Tucson where they have a lazy river and pool and water slide and wine-tasting and a spa…) for my requisite birthday pamperings. In the down time, I call Mom. We talk of many things … birthdays, wedding planning, family gossip … and eventually I mention that, oh, I went to the ER last night to get checked out, I think I was dehydrated. I expect Mom to Grow Concerned but there is a light note to her voice as she says this…
“Oh, I know I’m dehydrated when I start forgetting words. I just drink a glass of water and I get right back to normal.”
Afterward, in a later conversation, she agrees with me that I was right to go get checked out. It was scary. I hadn’t experienced it before. David and I were both frightened. I don’t know about you, but I like my brain. I like being able to use it to its fullest capacity by bantering and making puns and killing time on YouTube.
Aphasia is not a standard symptom of dehydration. Not totally unheard of, but not common at all. Yes, moderate dehydration can cause Confusion (in the clinical time/date/place sort of sense) but I have never seen Aphasia listed in the confusion set of symptoms. Evidently this is a family thing.
If I had known this or heard it any time in the past, oh, let’s say DECADE, I would not have panicked. I might still have gone to get checked out, but I would not have thought instantly “Stroke! 911!” I probably would have taken a calmer cataloging of my symptoms and paid closer attention to whether things were getting worse after I drank water. In fact, I would have been chugging more water as soon as I started stumbling over words – maybe even before. I wouldn’t have become a sloppy un-drunk.
And we would have brought that bottle of wine to Nick’s dinner party.
One of my resolutions is to write more. Pick up that habit again.
I’ll start with a list, as those always get me going.
Half a Year’s News
- David is home. It took him a year in Iraq, then 36 hours and something like 5 airports, his plane landed at 5 AM and I finally got to hug him at 7 AM, but he made it home. I’m glad his parents were there with me. It made the waiting so much easier.
- Work continues. We are officially working with another vendor now, and apart from the usual rush of deadlines I’m rather satisfied with it. No job is ever perfect, but I still hold great hope for this project. That hope keeps growing.
- We spent block leave in New York and DC and the southern Rocky Mountains. I like traveling, I like sharing my travels with David, but I think two weeks might be just about my limit.
- Shortly after the block leave trip, we were invaded! by my friends from 4-H & UC Davis. PAX 2010 was excellent. Many games were played and epic fun was had.
- Cav Ball. I dressed up and looked purty. David looked pretty good too. Kira and I took some goofy “formal” pictures together. They make me smile.
- In October we moved to Arizona. David is in a 6-month career course and will head to his next duty post at the end of it. I haven’t completely adjusted to life in the high desert, but I hear a raven croaking outside my window. The cats are unimpressed.
- The autumn and winter have been full of travel. Just a week after we arrived in Sierra Vista, I headed to Phoenix for a week of national 4-H staff conference. Then local travel, as we explored our new neighborhood. Then Thanksgiving. Then I spent a week in Nebraska and returned the night before our anniversary.
- We spent our anniversary at a lovely resort just outside Tucson. David picked me up from the airport the night prior, and made sure we were thoroughly pampered with massages and wine tastings the next day. That evening, at dinner, I began opening what I expected to be an anniversary gift and found him on a knee next to me. We’re engaged.
- Christmas and New Year’s were a whirlwind of family and friends. There was time in Tahoe, in Walnut Creek, in Ojai, in Ventura, in San Francisco. Nearly all the people I care about most deeply made an appearance, though I wish I’d had more time with each.
- I’ve spent the last two weekends in Tahoe as well. We joined several of David’s classmates for a ski trip over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, and last week I was there again for a 4-H retreat.
- Like choir, real 4-H fills a need in my spirit. Neither is a religious experience, both provide a sense of deep connection to a community whose faces are always changing but whose purpose never does. I’m glad I have the opportunity to use that touchstone every few months.
- Speaking of choir and touchstones, we are headed to Fort Bragg, NC next. I’ve already found a potential choir. I’m feeling hopeful.
I didn’t think it had been this long since my last post. Oops!
This long year is nearly over … though the closer we get, the further away the date gets. At this point I’m counting in days. I am excited and nervous and starting to get thrilled. The cats and I have survived. The apartment still stands. I’m typing on a new computer, the job environment has changed a few times since my last, but I’m still here.
Now, if only Washington could get its weather ducks aligned and give me some summer sun!