Category Archives: Personal

Planning and growth

Many, many years ago, when I was still in the first ten years of my teaching career, I was successful. I was able to attract good students, where good meant talented and dedicated, with supportive parents.

So it was quite a shock when the mother of a younger (3rd grade?) transfer student after about one semester decided to quit lessons with me. She explained that her daughter still missed the previous teacher’s daughter with whom she had been good friends, so “piano lessons” had always meant a play date as well.

But also, and more importantly, the mother explained, I just didn’t have a plan. There was no plan in my teaching, she said, no logical progression, no first this then that, nothing to look forward to, because nobody knew what was coming up.

This was a slap in the face. I had been so proud of being more creative than other teachers who used a cookie cutter approach to teaching: same method for every student, same materials, same pieces on every recital.

I easily dismissed her criticism, and explained it away as the uneducated opinion of someone who simply did not know how to appreciate my creative approach. After all, if this had been a real problem then other parents would have said the same thing, right?

Wrong, of course.

I now know – but don’t remember how I came to learn – that she was absolutely correct of course. I now value having a plan, thinking ahead, designing individual assignment sheets for my students (printed out ahead of the lesson). I try to balance having a plan and at the same time being creative in the implementation of the plan, and I always try to pay attention and make changes as necessary. I appreciate being able to spend the time to do a lot of thinking about my students, where we want to go, and how we will get there. I still don’t have an answer to a parent’s question, “How long before she’s going to play the Moonlight Sonata?” but I can lay out the (kinds of) books and materials I anticipate using, and in what order.

Different but related: eleven weeks ago I got braces. Because the first appointment with the woman who took care of the financial aspect and offered to explain everything was somewhat unhelpful – every question I had was answered with an enthusiastic and just-barely-not-condescending “Oh – it’ll be so easy!” – I made an appointment with the orthodontist, about six weeks into this adventure, asking if he would share the treatment plan: what are the issues he is seeing, and how will he address them, what are his goals, and how will we get there.

It was a most frustrating experience. He seemed genuinely stumped at these questions. “Well – we’re gonna put braces on your teeth …”  He didn’t mention any specific issues, and when I brought up one of them (that I was aware of), he still would not explain what he planned to do about it but spent a good five minutes explaining why we had to address the issue, and how my teeth got to where they are – something he had already explained in detail at the first consultation.

He emphasized how very individual every patient and therefore the treatment is, using the example of two different kinds of trucks: a Ford, and a Toyota – both are trucks, but very different vehicles. I played along and said, “Tell me about my Ford, then.” Again, he spent most of the time explaining why we had to address issues and how my teeth got to be where they are, but no real answers to my very specific questions.

Afterward I thought, either he doesn’t have a plan (not likely), or he is not used to being asked to explain, or he sucks majorly at explaining. Or maybe he misunderstood my questions as concerns and worries that he felt compelled to make me feel better about. The problem is that I didn’t have concerns or worries, I wasn’t looking for consolation, I was looking for information, something I thought was clear from my questions.

Fortunately, my dentist is very good at explaining, clearly and concisely, so he has on occasion filled in when I had questions.

I guess the orthodontist is where I was twenty or twenty-five years ago: toward the beginning of his career, with enough experience to do his job, but with plenty of room to grow.

 

Being Creative in the 21st Century

For as long as I can remember, I have been improvising and composing at the piano.

A few weeks after I started lessons, my fourth grade class listened to Mussorgsky’s Pictures of an Exhibition, and shortly thereafter I brought my teacher my own arrangement of The Great Gate of Kiev. I believe I did write it down, with what limited experience I had in note-writing.

My “practicing the piano” has from the beginning been interspersed with improvisation: all it took was one accidental wrong note in one of my pieces, and off I went into my own piece because my imagination had been piqued. Sometimes I wrote things down (wish I had saved them …), most often I didn’t.

Now, when I sit down to play the piano I just play and see what comes out of my fingers. Sometimes, when I like it, I keep spinning, and sometimes it turns into a “thing”.

For a long time, I hadn’t taken the time and effort to write things down, but with notation software, and especially the option now to publish through sheetmusicplus, I have started to write my compositions down and submit them for publication. I have chosen not to do paper versions of my pieces, just down-loadable PDF files. I find it environmentally more responsible to not have paper copies of my pieces out there, whether someone buys them or not, but to offer people to print one copy at a time as needed / purchased. It also allows me to make changes, without having to wait for an official second printing.

It’s a form of self-realization. It is definitely not something to get rich by: sheetmusicplus pays a 45% commission on every copy sold, and when they offer a sale, say, 20% off, then I get my 45% off the reduced price. So, for the time being, I’ll keep my day job as the owner of a piano studio, but slowly and not entirely surely, I get to share this other side of me, too.

So far, there’s a Sentimental Waltz, and the first of several Etudes available. Go have a look!

The Pressure of a Day Off

My schedule in the summer is wildly irregular. Not only does it change from day to day but also from week to week. Which sounds stressful but I actually enjoy being able to be flexible and accommodate my students’ changing schedules: summer camp in the afternoon one week, evening swimming the next, afternoon camp and evening soccer the third, etc.

My policy states that I expect to see my students for a lesson unless they are out of town; there is no scheduled break in the calendar other than spring break, a week after Memorial Day, Thanksgiving Thu through Sun, and the week between Christmas and New Year, but students have the option to take a week off every ten weeks if they wish (many don’t). So it seems only fair that I try to work around their schedule as much as I can. Some students even change the lesson format: two 30-min lessons in a busy week, two 45-min lessons when there’s more time; others try to keep it more regular. Whatever works for them, I’ll try to do.

Because an unusually high number of students are taking two lessons a week this summer, all of them Mon/Thu, those two days are really full. Not much the other three days. Last week, it so happened that all Wed students were out of town. Which meant that in the middle of the week I unexpectedly had a day off. A glorious nothing-on-the-calendar day.

Maybe it’s the heat – it’s been unusually hot, or maybe it just feels like that – maybe politics which cause a great deal of stress these days, but on this day off I felt a lot of pressure to ENJOY THE DAY! or at least MAKE GOOD USE OF IT! so that it feels like the special day it was. So much on my list of things I would do if I had a day off from teaching and nothing else on the calendar either – ARE YOU RELAXING ALREADY??

It used to take me a couple days to get into vacation mode but over the last two, maybe three years I have been able to switch gears more quickly, so I was surprised that on this day off I only felt pressure, no relief, and that I couldn’t get into “vacation” (if only for a day) mode. At the end of the day I had accomplished a bit of what I thought I SHOULD! do, taken a bit of time to relax, but mostly I was struggling with how to make this day off worthwhile? count?

During the school year I teach Monday through Saturday, but in the summer I take Saturdays off. And every Saturday I say, Thank God it’s only Saturday, Thank God I have two days in a row, enough time to get stuff done, and also some time to just be off.

Goldberg Variations . Aria da capo e fine

Around the middle of February, I decided to join 31 other Kansas State University piano faculty, students, alumni and guests, preparing a performance of J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, to take place April 2.

The entire work, 50 pages of “technical  virtuosity, compositional ingenuity, and transcendent musical expression” (according to Dr. Virginia Houser’s program notes) also takes between 75 and 90 minutes to perform, depending on one’s tempo, and is therefore not something that the mortal among us endeavor to tackle in its entirety by oneself.

Since I came in as the preparation was already well underway, I had no choice in which variation I would perform; it so happened that the person who had signed up for the reprise of the aria at the very end was unable to perform, so that’s what I got.

I had heard the piece but had never taken the time to learn it. It was surprising, and a bit depressing, how long it took me to just learn the notes. There is some polyphony, some tricky rhythms, a bit of ornamentation, and then there was, for me, the challenge of trying to figure out what to do with such deceptive simplicity. I listened to a few YouTube recordings but didn’t really like any: most of them were either sentimentally swooney, or strict and unfeeling. Glenn Gould was extreme but actually came close to what I thought it should sound like.

I practiced, and played, practiced, played, over and over, trying different things, and finally realized that I had no real concept of the piece. No plan, no image, no anything. It was such a perfect example of hitting all the right notes and still not making music – at least not the kind of music this utterly sublime Aria deserved.

With some panic, and hesitation – I should be able to figure this out on my own, shouldn’t I?! -, five days before the performance I emailed my professor from grad school, Bob Edwards, asking if he would be willing to listen to me. He was, and did, and mostly encouraged me to use a bolder tone, carrying the sound to the last row, and to linger a bit more, here and there, employing a very careful rubato. He used words like “delicious”, and “scrumptious” to describe the tone and sound to aim for. And always, sing! Sing! It opened my ears, and I liked the new sound.

When I told Mark, who had patiently listened to my practicing over the last couple weeks, that I had found a new tone, but that – three days before the performance – I still wasn’t entirely sure of everything, he asked how this Aria fits with the piece that comes before it – the Aria should be a somewhat logical continuation, or perhaps contrast. Without thinking too deeply about it, I said that this Aria, unlike the first one which – note-wise – is identical, should sound retrospective, perhaps like an old person looking back over their life, remembering the good, and the not so good.

Suddenly I saw my mother who a bit more than seven years ago had just been informed by the hospital physician that the mysterious neurological symptoms that had plagued her for a good ten, twenty years, gradually worsening, were in fact ALS. No cure, no prospect of ever getting better again, or even going back home, only gradually losing more and more of her ability to move, swallow, speak, eventually breathe. She already was unable to use her legs anymore, and because of severe osteoporosis wasn’t able to sit up, comfortably.

My mother used to love to travel – she was in Turkey when she became too sick to stay and had to be flown to Germany -, and she delighted in good food, whether prepared at home or dining out. I remember her phone call from Turkey, “You should taste the food here! The carrots! I’ve never had carrots that tasted so fresh!”  Now she would never be able to travel again, and eating had become a chore already.

While she had a preference for sentimental books and movies, when it concerned her life, herself, she was refreshingly unsentimental. She had short bouts of honest sadness and despair, allowing – once – that her diagnosis was “crushing”.  But she also, in one of the many introspective moments she shared with me, said, in a voice as if it had just occurred to her, “You know … we really did have a good life.”

The next time I sat down to play the Aria, I saw my mother, looking back over her life, remembering, reminiscing, somewhat removed already but still very much here. When I ended I was in tears.

I was afraid that performing the Aria which had now become so very personal, private in a way, would get to me emotionally and I’d end up in tears on stage. But as I kept playing and practicing over the next two days, playing mostly, practicing to perform, my mother who had been so very present started to fade into the background. The memory of her was still there, and I will probably never hear or play the Aria again without thinking of her, but I was able to play without tearing up.

 

Photograph in the local newspaper, The Mercury.

Receiving a short email from Bob Edwards after the performance, saying he thought I played the Aria beautifully – that was emotional. As was having several of my students come up to me after the performance – one even brought flowers. And Mark. Many many hugs, and Thank You’s, and smiles, and relieved laughter.

Video on YouTube: https://youtu.be/mLmjuPOoTeE 

Johann Sebastian Bach. After almost three hundred years, he still gets to people.

Thank God.

Coloring inside the lines

I have always loved coloring books, long before they became so popular that bookstores now dedicate entire shelves to them and have special displays all through the store.

Many years ago, when my students studied Verdi’s Aida we used the Ancient Egypt coloring book published by Dover. When we listen to The Song of the Unicorn, we color pages from Life in a Medieval Castle and Village. My beginning students who study the Musical Alphabet get to color the Garden Fairy Alphabet.

Azalea Fairy coloring pictureAnd so on and so forth.

One of my favorite features of the Kodak software that came with my camera, a very long time ago, was that I could turn any photograph I had taken into a coloring picture. Many years ago, I took a picture of the front porch of my then-studio and turned it into a coloring picture.

Stonehouse front porch coloring picture

 .

Several years ago, when I spoke with my mother about art, and painting, I somewhat sheepishly admitted that I liked coloring books so much that I sometimes sat down and colored a picture I had found or created for a student – this was before the age of coloring books for adults. My mother chuckled and said that she did the same. Before retiring, my mother had started to resume painting and drawing, and after retiring, she dedicated much of her time to traveling, painting, and attending workshops, focusing mostly on watercolors.

untitled

Winter (2006) 50 Euros

As we talked, she mused that what attracted her to coloring books may have been the freedom that comes from not having to create something from scratch. The coloring book already provides the outline – literally -, all you have to do is choose your colors and have at it.

I could immediately relate to that.

I’ve also recently started to think that playing the piano is much like a coloring book: there is the outline – the notes, the printed information in the score –  which you can’t (shouldn’t) alter, and then you get to color, staying more or less inside the lines. I’ve also wondered how useful it would be to add a short coloring activity to my meeting with a new student: observe how they handle having to stay in the lines, how creative they can be within certain confines. I always explain to parents of especially young students that so much of what we do in the beginning has to do with learning to follow directions: if the score says E flat, and you play E natural, it will not sound right. If the rhythm consists of quarter and eighth notes, and you play everything as eighth notes, it will not sound right. Yes, music, making music, is a wonderfully creative process, but unless you want to play nothing but your own creations, you need to know how to follow rules. And if you want to learn, you need to be willing and able to follow directions.

In the meantime, I enjoy the many coloring books I have acquired recently, bought at the store, or received as Christmas present from an observant family.  I am also a regular at the local arts store where I buy my coloring pencils, one at a time, the exact color I am looking for.

From the 2016 Coloring Calendar, published by DO Magazine:

2016 coloring Calendar January

 

And, under construction, from the “Enchanted Ocean” coloring book:

Enchanted Ocean coloring picture - two fish‘Tis a good day when I get some coloring in. 🙂

Spring Break

I love teaching.

It’s one of the relatively few things I am really good at. During my sabbatical several years ago, I was unable to find enough students to have a “studio” and it was the combination of not being able to find students and not being able to teach (much) that depressed me.

I would love to teach all the time. I never say no when the opportunity to work with a student arises. Which becomes a problem when I forget that even with the best job in the world, I need time off. Time to renew, rejuvenate, time to be away from it all.

Years ago, I learned to guard breaks such as winter and spring break, or the week after Memorial Day when I don’t teach, jealously. I learned that I do need this very definite unstructured time of no lessons. Not because I am sick and tired of teaching or because I feel I need a break, but because I need the distance. I need, and cherish, the “nothingness” on the calendar. Breathing space.

There were times when I gave in and taught “just a few make-up lessons” during a break and I always regretted it. I don’t know if it’s a case of “absence makes the heart grow fonder” or simply the need to step back from it all, remove myself for a week or two, look at things and teaching issues and students from a distance and then return to teaching with renewed energy.

Whatever the reason, I have learned to say No.

Well, kind of. A few days before this year’s spring break, a former student contacted me to see if I had some time to go over some music and theory with him. How can I say no to the opportunity to work with Jamey? Wednesday afternoon we spent a delightful, intensive, productive two hours taking parts of Liszt’s Liebestraum apart, working on technical issues, interpretation, and discussing theory, jazz, improvisation, and more.

Over the course of this spring break week, in addition to working with Jamey, I had medical appointments and an appointment with our accountant; we had to be home to meet with the irrigation guy to go over how to set up the spring irrigation schedule; we were expecting a call from the insulation people about working on our attic – none of it big, but all of it things on the calendar. Something nearly every day. It had seemed like a good idea to use spring break when my afternoons are free to do some of the things that might be more difficult to fit into my schedule when I teach. But it made spring break less of a break.

I realize that I live a very privileged life. A very first-world life, with first-world problems and solutions: doctors, accountants, irrigation and insulation experts.

But I am an introvert. In order to be there for my students, I need time to myself. Unstructured alone-time. Lots of Nothingness on the calendar. Next break, I’ll do better.

Tendinitis

For more than two months now I’ve been struggling with tendinitis, and no, it’s not because I am a pianist / piano teacher.

As I explained to a colleague,

I am hesitant to tell people about it because they automatically assume “pianist” => “tendonitis” as if it were some kind of foregone conclusion.  As you know, playing the piano, even for a long time, doesn’t cause tendonitis (unless you don’t know what you’re doing).  In my case it was squeezing the insecticidal soap spray bottle for about an hour two months ago which wrecked my arm.  Repetitive motion at its finest …  Everything has been hurting, and getting worse, for two months now:  lifting the tea cup into the microwave, doorknobs, even just emptying the dishwasher, vacuuming!, anything that requires my hand to squeeze / hold on to something and then turn my arm.  Because I’ve been moving in a guarded manner, all kinds of compensation pain has now developed – left arm (to “save” the right arm), muscles I didn’t even know I had in my arm pits are screaming …  We tried a two-week course of OTC anti-inflammatory meds which helped with the pain but didn’t improve the inflammation.  It seems like the inflammation has settled comfortably in my tendons / muscles, so one of the goals of PT is to aggravate / re-injure the tissue to get a better response from the body.  Not much fun.  But I hope it works.  Fortunately, and amazingly, it hasn’t much impacted my piano playing – it’s a different set of tendons and muscles.

As mentioned above, we tried physical therapy.  After the third session, Monday evening I found a rather large and nasty bruise on my right forearm.  The entire area was very sore, extremely tender to the touch.  Even though it must have been largely my imagination, it felt like everything was hurting that night.

The next day I decided that 3 times-a-week PT alone – which focuses exclusively on the injured area – was not enough, it felt too limited.  I went to see my chiropractor who worked on my wrist, shoulder, neck, and upper back.  I don’t remember but I don’t think he even touched my forearm / elbow.  He explained that since my injury had been caused by repeatedly squeezing a spray bottle it could very well be that my wrist was involved as well – he called it “chicken and egg”:  who knows what came first, injury to the wrist which then moved back to the elbow, or injury to the elbow / tendon which then impacted the wrist.  Regardless, there were problems with my wrist and he addressed them.  As happens often after my (rather infrequent) chiropractor visits, there was a feeling of opening up, as if things (what things?) were moving more freely.  Somehow I was breathing easier, and my entire right arm felt less tight (I had not been aware that it felt tight before).  Very difficult to explain.  We scheduled a follow-up appointment three days later.

I called PT and explained that the injured area was extremely sore and that I wasn’t sure what my therapist would be able to accomplish the next day – except for stretching exercises all treatments are hands-on: ten or so minutes of ultrasound to get the topical anti-inflammatory deeper into the tissue; cross massage (NO WAY would I allow anyone to massage that area).  Electric stimulation I might have been able to handle.  The receptionist recommended to skip the appointment and pick it up on Friday again.

Thursday I saw a (different) chiropractor for acupuncture.  This was a first and while I had never experienced it before I was perfectly confident that it would be a valuable step toward healing.  The therapist explained afterwards that patients usually feel a difference within 24 – 48 hours which in my case would be Friday or Saturday (today).  When I made the appointment the day before, I had also asked about homeopathic remedies.  Dr Springer recommended arnica (both taken internally, and as an ointment), and ruta.  She warned to take the arnica for only two days:  that should be enough, and if one takes it without the body’s need for it, it may actually cause the symptoms to reappear.

Yesterday, Friday, I had another appointment with Dr Hamler (first chiropractor).  He was very pleased with my wrist but still found (to no one’s surprise) issues with other areas.  I told him that I haven’t been moving normally for over two months, so it would be a miracle if nothing else (other than right arm) was affected.  I like the idea of setting the body up for healing.  Dr Hamler suggested to allow enough time between different appointments, enough time for the body to respond to each treatment.  I will have one acupuncture next week, and one chiropractic treatment, nicely spread out over a couple of days.

Yesterday morning I met with the physical therapist.  She felt that my body – despite the very obvious response it showed Monday evening – was not responding to PT the way she felt it should in order to warrant continuing with PT.  (Originally we had scheduled 4 weeks of PT.)  I was surprised because when I had asked at the beginning how long it might be before things improve I was told “weeks, sometimes months”.  She wants me to go back to my primary doctor and re-visit other options, including a cortisone shot.  I was very disappointed.  Mark had injured his elbow several weeks ago and PT had been such a fantastic experience for him.

Anytime a doctor asks if my arm is improving – I don’t know what to say.  There are so many fluctuations during each day:  I wake up sore and stiff but things improve right away the moment I start moving.  Then I do something stupid, like carrying a pitcher of water across the room to water some house plants, and suddenly my arm screams.  There are so many things I shouldn’t do with my right arm:  there is practically no kind of housework that does not involve gripping and/or twisting:  vacuuming, ironing, moving laundry from washer to dryer, emptying the dishwasher, opening the fridge, opening a bottle or the milk carton, opening the mailbox, door handles, unlocking the car, brushing teeth, …  My left arm isn’t used to doing all of that, so it has been complaining now too … I have started to use two hands to do most of these things now.

Then things get better again.  I explain that I live with this arm 24 hours a day so it’s very difficult for me to see whether things are improving over the course of several days or a week or two.  I think I am also used to the constant nagging discomfort now, so if it feels better it may not actually be better, it’s just that I have learned to live with it.  ?

Having said that, I am secretly (so as not to jinx it) confident again that things are actually getting better.  Ever since yesterday afternoon-ish, my arm has felt better, lighter, less tense, hardly painful – God, how tempted I am to pick up that viola, and play, you know, just for 30 seconds or so.  Couldn’t hurt, could it?  I know it would … Playing the viola, and gardening are the two things (well, in addition to wanting to be able to take care of household by myself again, not needing Mark’s help left and right) that are so so very difficult to not be able to do.  Dr Hamler has a sign in his office:  “In spring, at the end of the day, one should smell like dirt.”

Yes please.

 

Post-surgery update

Ten days ago, two weeks after my gallbladder surgery, we saw the surgeon for the follow-up. To my surprise (which shows how little I know about surgery …), they had sent my gallbladder to the lab. The lab result showed chronic gallbladder inflammation. Like Mark said after the follow-up, it’s not usually a good sign when a physician uses the word “chronic” in a sentence, but in this case it was excellent news: since November 8, all blood tests and gallbladder-related tests had been infuriatingly normal or almost normal (borderline) – except for “sludge” in the gallbladder. We therefore had mixed feelings about the necessity and benefit of surgery. So, to hear that my gallbladder had been chronically inflamed was sad yet beautiful confirmation that surgery was indeed the right thing to do.

I have fewer and fewer instances / bouts of nausea. And I have noticed a sudden and dramatic increase in creative energy – like it’s been pent up for several weeks, three months, and now bursting forth. Teaching is again pure joy. My students and parents notice a different energy about me. Being able to eat more, and more different foods is joy. Living is joy.

Once again, life is good.

Recuperation

One week ago, today, Mark started to write about my gallbladder surgery. The surgery itself and the hours of immediate recovery went extremely well, confirming what the anesthesiologist had cheerfully said in our day-before-surgery phone conversation:  “You’re young and healthy – I don’t expect any complications.”

Young.  Wow.  I’ll be 50 this September.  Haven’t considered myself “young” in a while.

The “healthy” puzzled me at first:  how can one say that I am healthy when I have been struggling with persistent nausea and malaise for almost three months???  Yet, that wasn’t the health he was talking about.  It took me a moment to realize that he was talking about the blessed absence of any other health problems, the items he rattled off his list: no prior surgeries except for tonsils when I was maybe four and tubes in my ears when I was about 14, no problems with any medications, nothing neurological (Thank God), 140 lbs at 5’8″, no asthma, never had a stroke or heart attack, etc and so on – I guess in that sense I am healthy.   Definitely something to be grateful for.

While the surgery and immediate recovery did go extremely well – Mark took a short video of me walking, unaided, across the living room a mere six or so hours after the start of surgery, and I was almost euphoric the second day -, the days since then have been anything but straight-forward, linear recuperation.  I knew that walking and moving around would help with the healing, so I did that, and I am sure it helped.

What I wasn’t prepared for, though I should have known (because I did know but forgot), was the effect narcotics have on digestion:  serious constipation.  I should have started to take a laxative right with the very first pain pill I took, not wait until I realized two days later that, oh crap, I can’t go, with two days worth of stuff in my intestines.  Would have saved me some major discomfort.

Another lesson I learned, the very painful way the second night I was home, was that just because I’m in no pain doesn’t mean that I’m in no pain.  It means that the pain meds are doing their job.  Meaning:  the first evening, Mark set an alarm for 3:30 a.m. in the middle of the night, for me to take another dose of Norco (left-over prescription from the ER) – worked great.  The second night we didn’t (Mark would have but I thought nah, I’ll wing it).  Big mistake.  It took a miserably longer time for the meds to start taking effect than if I had kept the pain under control.  I wanted to get off the Norco as soon as possible, because I don’t like narcotics, and take Aleve or Tylenol instead.  Experimenting with different dosages kinda worked but I would probably not do it again.  Just take one or two pills every 4 – 6 hours as prescribed.

Walk and move and drink a lot, herbal teas for gas and bloating from the beginning would probably have alleviated at least some of the very uncomfortable gas and bloating.  The pictures Mark took of the incisions on my abdomen make me look like I’m pregnant.

The hardest part since last week though has been the return of the nausea.  Nausea is misery.  Every time I have a migraine (very infrequently), even while I am in pain, I say that I’d rather have ten migraines than one case of nausea or stomach flu.  I have had no reason to change my attitude about this.

Two concerns about the nausea:  first, why?  There must be a reason, and I would very much like to know what it is so we can take care of it.  (The thought was that my gallbladder, while perhaps not at the root of it, was at least contributing to it, so the surgery was a very good first step in the right direction.)  Second, even though I’ve been told many times that Phenergan is safe, and it does alleviate the nausea, I am concerned about covering up a symptom.

My mother’s second hip replacement surgery (surgery of the second hip) was unsuccessful, the replacement part never properly fused (?) with the bone.  Nobody knew, though, for many many months, because she was given very strong pain medication and was told to walk, walk, walk, and exercise, and do PT, which she faithfully did – and in effect damaged the hip even more.  She told me several times that on her own, without doctor’s orders, she would have taken much less pain medication, and therefore been alerted to something being wrong much sooner.  So, to be on the safe side, I called my surgeon’s nurse (one of the nicest people on this planet) who said that having the same symptoms as before the surgery is unfortunately not uncommon.  It may take a couple weeks for the nausea to completely go away.  Small meals, take it easy … And yes, Phenergan is safe to take as I need it.  Sigh.

In two days, I am starting to teach again; I asked several parents to move lessons to spread them out a bit – an hour and a half of highly focused attention at a time is probably all I want to handle for at least the next week or two.  My students have 100% of my attention 100% of the time they are with me; normally this is more invigorating than it is exhausting.  For the next week or two, we’ll do that in smaller steps.

Surgery

(The following was originally posted by Mark on December 29 on our Journey site)

Today Sibylle is having her gall bladder removed. All signs have been pointing to this for several weeks now. While the various scans and test all show that her gall bladder is functioning, it seems to be at the root of her symptoms and all the doctors involved have said that it needs to be removed.

The surgery is scheduled for about 12:30 pm this afternoon, but check in was at 10:30 this morning. She is back in the preparation area now getting an IV setup, the blood pressure cuff and pulse monitors installed and being made ready. I will be allowed to join her once all of that is set, and stay with her until the surgery starts.

We both have good feelings about the GI doctor who scheduled the MRCP and about the surgeon who will perform the procedure today. We are both understandably nervous about today and its outcome. If this addresses the persistent nausea that has plagued her for the past three months it will be well worth it.

Update

Sibylle’s surgery was started about 15 minutes ago. If all goes well I should see the doctor for his post-operation report in about 90 minutes. Once Sibylle is moved from the recovery area to the preparation room I will be allowed to rejoin her. I spent about an hour and a half with her once she was prepped, until the surgical nurse came to get her. Sibylle had an IV started and had been given some Valium. The sedative effect of the Valium allowed her to doze most of the time we spent waiting. Shortly before she was taken to the operating room her doctor stopped by and explained what was going to happen.

After her surgery is completed she’ll spend some time in a recovery area, and once she is awake they’ll return her to the prep room.

It is very strange to be seated in the waiting area writing this knowing that she is being operated upon just down the hall. Fortunately I have the room to myself and therefore have turned the television off. I was tempted to hide the remote but decided that was passive-aggressive.

Post Surgery Update

I just spoke with the surgeon. The surgery went very well. Start to finish about 50 minutes. He said that he wasn’t able to inject dye into the duct between the gallbladder and the common bile duct as it was too small. So no imaging of bile flow during the surgery. There will be a follow up visit in two weeks with the surgeon to assess how things are going. Hopefully this alleviates her symptoms. He said that sludge or sand in the gall bladder (which she had) often causes more problems than a gall stone. The stone can’t pass the feeder duct into the common bile duct, whereas the sludge/sand can.

Three to five days of immediate recovery and then a week or so to return to full activities.

Whew.

The Morning After

Sibylle was discharged from the hospital at 6:00 pm Thursday evening. Seven and a half hours after we checked her in to out-patient surgery. She spent about an hour in recovery from 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm, and then dozed and rested in her room until 6:00. She was able to eat some red jello (the staple of hospital food), drink some water, and munch on a few ice chips.

After we were home she took a pain pill prophylactically and slept for an hour or so. The hospital warned us that her right shoulder could be quite sore as a result of the surgery and that walking around and movement would help alleviate that pain. So after her nap we took a meandering walk through the house going from room to room. She had a smoothie for dinner and then spent some time sitting in her desk chair writing and reading email. Around 10:30 pm she had a double dose of pain medication and we went back to sleep. (Added by Sibylle: the Norco is actually left-over from the prescription the ER gave me on November 8. Since pain had never been much of an issue, I had taken only one pill, once, not even for gallbladder pain but after the pelvic ultrasound to follow up on uterus issues they found while I was in the ER. The prescription says to take “one to two” pills every 4 – 6 hours. Last night, right before bed, I did take two pills, so I guess technically it wasn’t even a double dose.)

With two cats in the house, one of which loves to climb on and lay on people, she put a pillow over her stomach. With the blankets on top of the pillow to hold it in place she was nicely padded in case Taz jumped on her unexpectedly. We set an alarm for 3:30 am, which was about an hour prior to the pain med’s 6 hour span, and she took one more pill.

This morning she awoke with no appreciable pain or discomfort. One or two of the four incisions made yesterday is a bit tender to touch, but she is not in any pain. She was able to dress herself and make her morning tea.

By any measure this whole adventure seems to be going wonderfully well. We know that days two and three are often the hardest in terms of discomfort or pain, but so far her experience has been a very good one.