How to Gain Confidence in Speaking a Foreign Language

Because writing is distracting and there are other memories from this year worth preserving.

Let’s say, just for the sake of example, French.

  1. Go to a foreign country where the language is spoken. Get on a train going the wrong way from the airport, preferably in the middle of the night. Get off the train at a godforsaken suburban station that may or may not have a train heading in the right direction that late at night, but definitely no taxis. Try asking the drunken guy dropping off his even more inebriated brother whether you’re on the right platform. Try to interpret his slurred reply for your parents and ask him whether the last train for the night has already come, only to have him ask if you speak any other languages. Tell him that no, switching to Russian won’t help, unless you want also to switch to discussing whether you like milk and bread. Finally get on the train. For the next several days, read newspapers and books in French, but find that, in contrast to every other time you’ve been in the country, everyone seems intent on replying to you in English. Even the young guy at the post office you know doesn’t speak English as well as you speak French. Your stuttering probably isn’t helping your case. Surrender and slink back into reading what Le Figaro has to say about the whole DSK scandal. Head to another country where the locals speak a language you’ve only been learning for a year – let’s say, German – and immediately manage to strike up breezy conversations with cab drivers, hotel receptionists, waiters, etc. with no confidence problems whatsoever and while availing yourself of grammatical constructions you didn’t even know you knew that well.
  2. Despair of your ability to ever speak French again. Recognize that, logically, it’s probably mainly a confidence problem, but know that confidence is essential in being able to speak a foreign language and despair further.
  3. Keep reading from the stash of inexpensive paperbacks you picked up from the incredible multi-site bookstore in the legendary university quarter. Let’s say, Gibert Jeune. (God, you love French book prices.) Maybe occasionally watch a news clip or listen to a little Carla Bruni(-Sarkozy) song. Speak French to yourself in the shower and wonder what’s wrong with your ability to do this in real life. Console yourself that at least you have this ability and should be able to do necessary academic work in French. And that you can read Hugo in the original. (God, you love Hugo.)
  4. Go off to study abroad, but in England, where they speak something like the same language as at home. Gather your courage and sign up for the French Society at the Fresher’s Fair. (Signing up for the Scandinavian Society mailing list by accident in the process…You put your name down on the table with what looked like a tricolore and didn’t realize anything was amiss until the guy manning it invited you to come to the brunch tomorrow to enjoy some of the delicious moosemeat they had procured.) Go to the introductory cocktail party and mostly speak with one girl, another fresher…and in English because both of you are a little too nervous to speak French. Hold your own okay when speaking to a Canadian guy, but still sincerely doubt your ability to speak in a more natural situation, or to an actual Frenchie.
  5. Sign up for an intensive history course option for the second (middle) term. Put down three options, one of which involves doing a lot of reading in French. Get that one. Look at the texts and reassure yourself that you can read all of these.
  6. Look at your actual schedule and realize that while you can read all of the texts individually, the speed necessary to read one to three of them a week might be a little more challenging. You’re going to have to work on this over break.
  8. Google tips for how to improve your reading speed in a foreign language. Don’t find much. Decide to try a couple of suggestions any way. Put on an audiobook of Diderot’s La Religieuse while doing a puzzle. Make it through three hours before you get bored and realize you were reading faster than this before, anyway, and you might as well read it on your new Kindle.
  9. Install a French (French-to-French, monolingual) dictionary on your Kindle. Discover how handy it is.
  10. Get desperate and think outside the box. Look at suggestions for how to get kids to read faster in English and see that they should read below their level, because reading faster makes for reading more fluently, which makes for reading faster….Download some free children’s classics and read them at a quick clip. (And recognize why people talk about Anglophone children’s literature being superior.)
  11. Download classic plays in bulk. Moliere and Corneille and Racine, oh my! Read them and realize that you can read them at a comfortable clip. Read them on planes, which means you’re really reading them for fun and distraction without too much effort. Be happy about this, but expect it to do absolutely nothing for your speaking abilities.
  12. Go back to school and survive the semester of the further subject. Read lots of primary sources in French. Skim lots more secondary sources in French than you would have thought. Get really quite fast at skimming those secondary sources. Still opt for the English ones when you can. Sometimes look at translations for the primary sources, but do a presentation on one of the books that doesn’t have a readily available translation. Realize that other people don’t find Stendhal funny and there’s probably something slightly wrong with your head. Read lots of quotations aloud in class and tutorial. Keep reading.
  13. When your friend’s mom is visiting and takes you all out to dinner, have an allergic reaction to mushrooms, take Benadryl, have an allergic reaction Benadryl, and then correct another friend’s French counting through your near-paralytic haze when everyone probably thinks you’re high as a kite and just not there. Soixante not sixante.
  14. Go home for a break and don’t touch any French-language anything. Chat with your neighbor in German. Glance at a few Spanish-language websites. Contemplate taking up Italian – it was so beautiful in Rome a few months ago….But nothing French, not even finally finishing watching Z.
  15. Join your friends in Paris for your friend’s twenty-first birthday celebration the week before school starts back up. Arrive early in the morning at the hotel, where everyone else is already checked in, and speak with the people at the reception desk and breakfast in English. Head out with friends and friend’s mom and speak with the taxi drivers and museum cashiers in English. Give a history of World War II, as summarizeable on two paper napkins, in forty-five minutes in the museum café. In English.
  16. Go to dinner at a restaurant that night while half asleep from jet lag since it is, after all, only twelve or so hours after you got off a flight from California. Make sure that it’s the type of restaurant where the menus are all in French and the waiters only speak French. Make sure your group of eight includes a vegetarian, a vegan, and some very complicated food allergies. Make sure that you’re the only one with more than the equivalent of a year or two of rusty middle/high school French. Get put on the spot for language work before you have time to take off your coat, much less think about whether you can speak or not. Blearily translate the menu. Even more blearily negotiate your friend’s mom’s wine order, pretty much as soon as you sit down. Explain what a vegan is, what an American vegetarian (not pescaterian) is, and all the things you and the soon-to-be birthday girl are allergic to. Relay everyone’s questions to the waiter and the answers back. Do all of this before you realize that you’ve done it all, and in French. Don’t really think about how easily you’re speaking until the guy sitting next to you, your friend’s sister’s boyfriend, informs you that you have a really good accent and asks for pronunciation help with his phrasebook.
  17. Continue to play interpreter and sight translator for the next six days. Speak well enough that the tour guide your group has for a few days encourages you help navigate meal orders even when he’s around, at least for yourself.  Manage plenty of situations where you’re the only one who speaks both English and French. Get replied to in French, even in situations where the other person speaks some English. Talk a friend into the Orangerie and Orsay for free, as your UK student visas should allow. Basically just speak the language.
  18. Realize that yes, you can.

My (nose) laid bare



Notice anything different?

Yes, this Wednesday, I got my NJtube removed! In my last post, I mentioned that there was something I was hoping to be able to announce. Well…voila! After six long weeks, I no longer have tubing sprouting from my face. My pre-albumin levels are back solidly into normal territory and I’ve gained four pounds. (Hopefully I can do the rest on my own.) As annoying, even painful, as the tube was at times, it definitely served its purpose. It helped to stabilize me and start getting my weight up.

Removing the tube was far easier than putting it in. It was a little uncomfortable, and there were even a couple of seconds of pain, and it felt a bit weird in my stomach, not just my nose, but all in all, it was a quick and easy process. (Basically, the intervention radiologist pulled it out at a certain angle.) The tube looked pretty gross when it came out but I could sort of see why my throat had been hurting a bit more lately. Here’s to never having one again!

So, for the first time in six weeks, I can:

  • Wash my entire face
  • Roll around in bed any which way I want, without worrying about strangling myself, pulling the tube out, or clogging the line
  • Walk outside without having people stare
  • Not have a sore throat or nose

My tube’s absence actually makes for quite an adjustment. I still reach up and expect to touch it or go to sleep and have to remind myself that I don’t need to worry about it. I go outside utterly conscious of how I don’t need to be self conscious. I look at my face and I’m not quite sure what I see. It may sound strange, as I only had the tube for six weeks, but I don’t quite recognize myself. Do I look different than I did before? I don’t think anyone else notices it, so probably not. I’m just not used to seeing my face. Because while the tube and the tape only literally covered maybe a fifth of my face, it was what I saw, to a large extent. Now I see…me? It’s an adjustment I’m glad to be making, anyway.


Back from the city

I seem to be on a slow posting/updating schedule here. Sorry about that. I’ve actually been back from my appointment at CPMC  since Tuesday evening, but I didn’t get around to working on this post until last night. (No particular reason why – the last few days have been pretty good, just a bit of tiredness.)

We drove down to SF Monday afternoon and checked into our hotel in Cow Hollow. We had dinner on Steiner Street – it’s a really cute area, btw. Of course, as my grandmother put it, we weren’t in San Francisco for the reasons you want to be in San Francisco….

Tuesday morning rolled around and it was time for my appointment at the Center for Neurogastroenterology and Motility. We planned to grab a cab and skip dealing with parking, hills, and traffic, but that didn’t work out, so we ended up driving to get to the appointment on time. It worked out fine – Cal Pacific’s Pacific Campus parking garage was convenient for the Center and it turned out to be an easy ten minute drive. We made it to the waiting area, a few minutes later than we had planned, but still in good time. Though, I do think rushing up the hill from the garage helped to elevate my heart rate a little bit, as my blood pressure was a tiny bit higher – and probably therefore better – than it has been of late. It’s also possible that a tiny bit of my old “white coat syndrome” reared its ugly (irritating) head again. (It turns out, you stop getting nervous about doctors’ appointments when you have them all the time and getting your blood pressure taken no longer feels quite as intimidating when it ends up happening every few days, or hours. True story.)

Upside of driving: the view from the garage.

The Center I went to is really well regarded in the medical community. As I’ve mentioned before, my local gastroenterologist, who practiced in the Bay Area until recently, recommended it as the best place to deal with these kinds of issues. Dr. Snape, one of the physicians at the Center (I think he may have been the founder? He trained the other two doctors, including the one I saw), apparently wrote the motility questions for the gastroenterology boards. The clinic is also one of the places that has pioneered the use of the Gastric Electric Stimulator, which is used to treat severe gastroparesis. I believe I also previously wrote that the hospitalist at Enloe told me that the hospital has sent people with Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome (CVS) to this clinic before and they’ve been successfully diagnosed and treated. Naturally, with all this information, I had high hopes going in.

The good news is that I had a really good appointment, very much like Dr. Shetler (the gastroenterologist I saw), and still have high hopes for future treatment. The slightly-less-good news is that it’s still going to be a while before I actually get any of that treatment.

Before I went down, I had to fill out something like 50 pages of paperwork. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it took an hour and a half, with my parents’ help and frequent cross referencing of my calendar log, my journal, and bills. Aside from the typical questions about insurance and the by now very familiar things to sign, there were far-ranging questions about everything from family history to waist size to total body symptoms to detailed questions about my GI tendencies. Sometimes things were difficult to know whether to answer. Should I say yes or no to a question asking whether I’ve had difficulty swallowing, when my only difficulty swallowing has surrounded my tube? Should I circle “ever previously refused for a blood donation” in the long list of possible symptoms, when I was only turned down for not weighing enough, and three years ago at that? How distant of relatives count for family history? (And let’s not even go into the judgment calls required in filling out the Rome III part where the questions asked about frequency….) One thing that was helpful for me in filling out the forms was that it prepared me to be able to answer Dr. Shetler’s questions during my appointment.

And she certainly had lots of them. J I really liked her – she had a very reassuring bedside manner and seemed genuinely interested in and concerned about my case and me. She asked very precise questions, which is always helpful. We talked a lot about exactly how often I throw up, how I feel in between, what I’m vomiting, what does or doesn’t seem to precipitate things, and my other symptoms. We talked quite a bit about my “normal” stomach pain and that’s changed recently. I truly appreciated that she was interested in this, as well as in my obviously more pressing nausea/vomiting/weight loss situation. It does seem like it’s mostly a dietary issue (lactose and so on). We spent a considerable amount of time on my history – both of the time when I was acutely sick when I was eleven and twelve and my sort of mini “episodes” in between. (I told her about how I always seem to end up with an upset stomach and vomiting when I get colds, for example, and my getting sick two days after my double whammy of an allergic reaction to mushrooms and an allergic/adverse reaction to Benadryl in February.) We also discussed the medications I’ve been on and my reactions to them and she assured me that anything she tries me on will start with a very small dose. She confirmed that there’s no reason for me to take Reglan or Domperidone at this point, particularly given my side effects.

I didn’t walk out of the appointment with an official diagnosis. Dr. Shetler did say that it sounded like I had a lot of features of CVS, but that particularly as it’s a clinical diagnosis, she needs to rule out some other things first. I have to have another gastric emptying study done at CPMC and a breath test for small bowel bacteria overgrowth (SIBO). She didn’t think it was really gastroparesis, given the way I have good days, the way that I will sometimes wake up vomiting bile, and the way that my emergency room visits have gone, but she does want to be sure before treating me for anything else. She also wants to do another test (I think from looking at the center’s website that it’s called an antroduodenal manometry) that will look at the way my stomach relaxes and contracts. That test also involves another endoscopy. I told her about my past endoscopy experience and she very quickly turned to look at how much Versed I’d been given and said that it was a good amount and that it was a good thing I had Versed listed as one of my allergies. When I told her that I’d had a similar reaction to Benadryl recently, she said we’d have to have an anesthesiologist to do the endoscopy. I won’t be under general anesthesia, but I’ll have some other form of sedation that requires an anesthesiologist’s administration and monitoring. I guess this means I won’t become  “The Versed Girl” at another hospital!

It might have been about that time that I told her that, in addition to the reactions to Versed and Benadryl, I’ve had two other episodes of the paralysis part of my reaction, at least. I told her that I’d been told that they might be a form of atypical migraine or a reaction to one of my medications, but we hadn’t really figured that out. She said that that was alarming. I’m not sure how to write this next bit without coming across as complaining, which really isn’t how I intend it, but it’s really hard when doctors say things like that. I don’t fault them at all for doing so, but it’s just a difficult thing to hear. Of course I felt that way, going through it, but hearing it from a medical professional makes it all the more troublesome. This issue needs to be looked at along with my other symptoms, but I’m not entirely sure who’s going to be looking into it. (I’m basically collecting doctors here at this point.)

So, remember the downside? Dr. Shetler has ideas for CVS treatment, but they depend on ruling other things out. (She also advised me to follow a gastroparesis-type diet – low fiber, low fat – until we can rule that out. Seriously, I can eat about twelve things at this point.) Ruling those things out looks like it’s going to take until November 9th. Yes, over a month more. It was difficult to schedule the test involving the endoscopy, as the anesthesiologists were all booked out. My hope is that someone will cancel and I’ll get in sooner. (The other tests are easy to schedule.) I reassure myself with the knowledge that all of these tests and treatments will eventually leave me not only as well as I was before May 18th but actually better.

There was another big thing we talked about at my appointment, and that Dr. Shetler was concerned about, but I’m not quite ready to discuss it here. I have appointments with my gastroenterologist and primary care physician next week and I need to talk to them first. But, if all goes well, I may have something exciting – something I’ve been waiting for – to announce at that point. J

Another dressing change today. It’s bulkier, but more secure, so I actually feel it less. Then again, I always feel the dressing changes less than the old pieces of tape, since by the time my the tape’s changed, the old piece is pretty greasy and frayed. I appreciate what the tube has done for me, but I’ll be very happy when it’s out. (Full body pic shows my nose before. If you, you know, squint.)

What Kind of Day (Week. Plus.) Has It Been?

Hi everybody. I’ve been updating a little bit on Facebook but have neglected my blog. Additionally, I think a better explanation of my Facebook status updates is in order, not to mention recording all of it for my own memory. Because to answer Aaron Sorkin’s (paraphrased) recurrent question? It’s been one heck of a ten days.

In some ways, this isn’t fun to write about. It would be more fun to write about reading (I haven’t made much progress recently, though I do need to update my books read list, but I still want to do a post on Jo Walton and I have a whole list of topics for some day.) It would be more fun to talk about food, if I were cooking and eating interesting things. I’d rather talk about how it’s Rosh Hashanah and let’s all eat some apples and honey (or honey cake!) for a sweet new year. It would be enjoyable to discuss yoga – on the couple of good days in those ten I managed to do a little bit of gentle, at home yoga (with my doctors’ blessings/encouragement.) I guess I could talk about yoga now. There is always this.

My form is better when I’m not attempting a shoulder stand on a squishy hospital bed with an IV in my arm and loaded up with Zofran, Ativan, and morphine, I swear. (I have a funny story about shoulder stands. I’ve been doing them since I was six years old, even in my extended phase of thinking I wouldn’t like yoga because it would be too meditative or something. I literally didn’t realize they were yoga until about two weeks ago. You see, I spent a significant portion of my time ages six to eight upside down in supported or unsupported shoulder stands. In second grade, I played Go Fish every Monday afternoon, mostly upside down. Now, in lower elementary we did yoga a couple times a week at school – you know, hippie school and all that – and I must have learned the pose there. But somewhere along the way I forgot where I’d learned it and just thought it was my own idiosyncratic contortion. So, since I’ve been doing them, I’m disproportionately better at them than other yoga poses. When I’m not on a hospital bed and morphine, anyway.)

Hospital bed? Morphine? Let’s back up a bit.

Thursday I ate lunch. A little while later, I felt slightly nauseated. Before I knew it, I was vomiting forcefully. I “only” threw up a couple handfuls of times (that’s only for me), but I emptied my stomach. My mom came by and (sorry for the gross details) saw the vomit flying shooting out of my mouth and travelling a foot or two. She asked if it were projectile vomiting and I said that I didn’t think so, since it wasn’t going twenty feet or all the way across the room. (She was right, as it turns out. Mother knows best!) I did know that this was a different kind of vomiting than I had had in a while. I didn’t feel very well after this. It’s hard to describe, but I had a general sense of malaise and a gut feeling that something was off. I didn’t eat dinner but that evening I started to watch some TV with my parents. Gradually, I felt my body getting weaker and less able to move, though it felt like the world was moving beneath me. I was also having trouble keeping my eyes open. I also felt very hot. My parents tried to move me from a chair to the couch and my legs couldn’t support my weight. By a certain point, I couldn’t move my arms or legs at all. It was pretty similar to my reactions to Benadryl and Versed, except I hadn’t taken anything like that. My parents wanted to call my doctor or take me to the hospital, but feeling like that I just wanted to be left alone. We agreed to see how I was doing in an hour. Gradually, I regained my ability to move and we added it to our list of things that needed to be discussed at my next doctor’s appointment.

The next morning, I woke up with a bit of a sore throat, a stuffy feeling in my head, and an achey body – classically cold-like. My temperature was 99.2, which, for me, constitutes a fever. (By way of comparison, the previous night my temperature was 97.8. My normal is more like 97.3-97.8 than the classic 98.6.) Friday through Sunday were taken over by cold and mild fever (and some accompanying stomach upset.) Monday and Tuesday I started feeling better and actually had a couple of good days, although I was still a bit low energy.

Wednesday morning, my mom had to wake me up to disconnect me from my feeding pump. I was sound asleep at that point, which surprised her. Even more surprising, I rolled over and went back to sleep for another hour or so after she disconnected me. I slept almost twelve hours, which is a lot even more my current state. When I finally woke up, I still felt exhausted and had to drag myself to the kitchen to get some cereal and a banana. Not long after that, I was projectile vomiting again. Once again, some general malaise-y feelings followed and I watched TV on my laptop in bed for an hour or two. I got up to put my computer away and could feel my body was week. I set it down on my desk. When I turned around to head back to bed, my legs gave way and I crumpled. I crawled back into bed. Before I knew it, I couldn’t move my left arm or leg at all. I would try to move my fingers, think – and feel like – they were moving only to look down and see that they were completely still. I even had trouble keeping my left eye open. This time, I realized something had to be very wrong. I called my mom in because I was scared to be alone. I spent about an hour completely unable to move my arm and leg. This happened around lunchtime, but my mom called my doctor’s office as soon as it was open again and spoke to one of the nurses. She had my mom do a couple of quick checks on me (having me stick out my tongue and squeeze her hands, as I’d regained arm mobility by that point) and said she’d talk to my doctor but that if this happened again I needed to go to the ER. My doctor called back quickly and said that I needed to come in that day.

I was in my doctor’s office about an hour later, by which point I was feeling a bit shaken up, but I was able to walk and support my own weight. I saw the nurse practitioner for a neurological exam, which thankfully ruled out a stroke. I have to say, it’s awfully frightening to be checking for a stroke when you’re twenty years old! The only test, out of about a dozen, that was off was the one where I was supposed to track her finger with my eyes (still not sure why on that one.) My heart rate showed orthostatic intolerance, which basically means it went up by more than 10 when I went from sitting to standing, and is a sign of dehydration. My doctor came in to talk about what happened and said she wanted me to get bloodwork done to check my sodium levels, in case I was having some kind of pre-seizures. She also said it was possible that my new daily medication could have been causing this reaction, but she wasn’t sure and would have to check. (Reglan, my old med, could have, as could have my as needed meds, but I hadn’t taken any of those in a while.) She also suggested I head to the hospital for another round of hydration therapy.

View from my hospital window

My parents and I headed the block from my doctor’s office to Enloe Hospital and checked in. I got hooked up with an IV and had blood drawn for labs. (My sodium levels were okay.) I started vomiting again, despite being NPO and not having had anything to eat or drink since my attempt at breakfast, and had to get IV Zofran. Because giving me two liters of saline would take until 2 or 3 in the morning, the nurses got me hooked up to a pump for my NJ feeding so that I wouldn’t miss out on that time. First, though, my nurse had to unclog the tube again. Ugh! Luckily it was relatively easy that time. So, at 3 a.m. I headed home, though my blood pressure had been a bit low even for me.

The vascular access nurse left his smiley mark.

I woke up with a bit of a headache. Okay, I was tired, even though I’d gotten some sleep in the hospital and more once home. But even in its early, not too bad stages, this headache was not a typical tiredness headache. It was a sickly headache, like a nauseous feeling in my head instead of stomach. It might sound strange, but this is a description I used on Thursday when I was still able to talk and it’s the most fitting I can think of. It was a green feeling in my head. (“Not nice construction paper green. Avada Kedavara green.”) It grew worse and worse until I was curled into a ball and crying. (Tearless crying, for what it’s worse.) All of a sudden, and without intending to, I started making this sort of humming or wordless singing sound. I couldn’t stop – if I did, the head pain would explode and I would have trouble breathing. As it was, I was hyperventilating. My parents tried to get me up to take me to the ER but as soon as I tried to stand, even with my dad supporting me, my legs collapsed and I vomited, despite having had some Zofran. I’m still not entirely sure how my legs collapsed like that – I couldn’t feel them buckling. My parents were scared and I couldn’t talk to tell them what was going on. I tried writing, but my handwriting wasn’t legible enough and what they got just told them that I was in pain. They called 911 and an ambulance came to get me. The EMTs gave me oxygen and got some relevant information (drug allergies, what I’d been taking, my ongoing condition) from my parents. I remember their asking whether I normally talked and was mentally functional and if the noise I was making were new.

They got me in the ambulance and quickly got an IV in me, even though my dehydrated veins were not the easiest to handle. I managed to communicate with them mostly with thumbs up and down. They got me into the ER right away. There, they relayed the information my parents had given them to some very confused nurses (or someone, I had an eye mask on and really couldn’t tell what all was going on) who didn’t understand some of the stuff in my history. They asked me a number of questions, some of which I was able to answer with gestures and some of which I managed to choke out answers to. It helped that one of the ER doctors who had treated me before came over and recognized me (as his favorite cyclic vomiter, apparently). He also remembered my dad and asked, “He’s English, right? No? Foreign, though? No? Just well-spoken then.”  That’s when I got the trio of Zofran, Ativan, and morphine pushed into my IV. It felt awful for a few minutes as it went in and they had to slow it down a bit, but my head pain dissipated quickly. They also drew blood for more labs and got me hooked up to some saline. I got a quick CT scan. I was able to take off my eye mask after a little while and my parents made it back to see me. I did, however, have some rather interesting sensations from all the drugs – feeling like I was floating through air and such. Not my cup of tea, though the relief the drugs provided made it worth it.

The ER doctor came back to talk to us. We talked a bit about what had happened the day before and about my upcoming appointment at Cal Pacific. He said that a hospitalist was going to come see me and that my primary care doctor wanted me admitted for the night. We also just talked about cyclic vomiting syndrome some and migraines in general. He said that migraines are basically a third stage of consciousness – there’s sleep, there’s awake, and there’s migraines. He was very nice and spent quite a while talking with us before the hospitalist came. She arrived and asked more about my history, both of this spell since May and back when I was eleven, and asked what tests I’d had done and such. She asked if I’d been tested for mono and Lyme and when I said no, she had those done. We talked about the episodes of temporary paralysis and she said that there’s an atypical kind of migraine that presents as temporary paralysis. (And if it turns out that I have CVS, which everyone at Enloe seems to think is a very fitting diagnosis, there’s no doubt that it’s a strongly migraineous type.) She also admitted me and sent me back up to the fourth floor. I was pretty emotional, and she was very understanding and reassuring.

The same room, with the same roommate, as before, as it happens.

I spent the night, hooked up to my IV and feeding pump. They kept giving me saline solution and, because my bloodwork showed I was low, a potassium supplement. I also got some dinner, got sick again, and got some more IV Zofran. That stuff can be quite miraculous in its effects…. I was so tired that I managed to sleep through some vitals checks during the night. Also through my tube detaching from the tubing leading to the pump and soaking my shirt, hair, and bed with Jevity, the formula that is only suitable for oral feeding in people with “altered perceptions of taste” or something like that, to give you a sense of its smell. The nurse had to wake me up to sort that situation out. (Also, I sweated enough to soak through my leggings and the sheets. Weird, and added to the list of things to discuss at CPMC.) Another nurse woke me up at 4 to take blood, so I didn’t see whether I would sleep through that or not.

Before they added the big clunky feeding pump.

My dad dropped by early in the morning to visit for an hour or two before he headed to office hours/class. My parents were amazing through all of this. I know that this had to be incredibly stressful, even frightening, for them, but they stayed strong throughout it. My mom joined me a little later, having walked over with a bag of supplies.

The hospital had fun feeding me. Basically, given my dietary patterns these days, it worked out easier for me to tell them what I could eat for each meal than to attempt to modify the menu selection. I was amazed that the standard options weren’t more lactose-intolerant friendly, though, since that’s so common. (It’s underdiagnosed, I guess.)

I got a shower to get the Jevity out of my hair and hung out with my mom for a while, getting more saline in. (Also another shot of Zofran.) My mom called my primary care doctor’s office because apparently we had a message at home asking for my parents’ cell phone numbers so my doctor could call and talk to them. My doctor got on the phone and gave us an update. It turned out that the medication I was on could cause the temporary paralysis, which, particularly when combined with my migraine-type propensities, was a relief to hear. Needless to say, I’m no longer on that medication. (Making for a total of three anti-emetics I’ve tried and couldn’t tolerate the side effects.) She also informed us that the mono test came back positive. So, apparently I’ve had mono at some point in the relatively near past. My doctor’s orders now include as much rest as possible.

My dad came back a little after one and we were all there when the hospitalist, Dr. Ward, returned. She said my blood counts and electrolytes were back to normal and that I didn’t need to stay. My CT scan from the day before had been good, too. We also talked about my mono result – she talked to the lab and they weren’t sure how far back it was good for. They were able to tell her that it would definitely show up if I’d had mono in the last three weeks, but they weren’t sure if it could have been from four months ago. Dr. Ward arranged for me to have blood drawn before I was discharged for another test that will tell us if I had it in the last month or if it were earlier. If it were earlier, it may be that mono, rather than a stomach virus, was what actually kicked off this whole episode. We also talked about CVS a bit and Dr. Ward said that Enloe has sent other people to Cal Pacific to see Dr. Snape and his students (I’m seeing Dr. Shetler) and they’ve been very good at treating CVS. It’s not a curable disease, but it is manageable. We’ll see what they think about diagnosis and treatment at CPMC on Tuesday.

After all of that, I finally made it home. I’ve been resting a lot (sleeping a LOT) yesterday and today. I’ve been looking at magazines quite a bit – I don’t want to spend too much time looking at screens because my head will start to feel funny, but reading is kind of difficult. I’m feeling a lot better than I have since Tuesday at least. And I have the immense relief of knowing that I’ll see the specialist on Tuesday. I just need to pack now. (That’s actually not the easiest thing to do when you don’t know exactly how long you’ll be somewhere!) I’ll try to keep everyone updated on what goes on over the next few days.

❤ Jordan


Thanks for all the lovely birthday wishes!

My first day as a twentysomething — actually a twentynothing — went well.

The beginning proved less than smooth, as I woke up with stomach pain and was sick for a few hours, but despite my early fears, I did not have to spend my birthday feeling poorly. (Or in the hospital, which was my big fear when my mom momentarily thought my tube had clogged again. Thankfully, it proved a false alarm.) I recuperated in time to take a lovely phone call from my Aunt Edie, whom I talked to for quite a while. I was able to drink ginger tea for lunch, which left me optimistic that I could still manage birthday cake later. The only lingering effect I had of the episode, or whatever it was, was that throughout the day my stomach was severely distended. It’s probably visible in some of the photos, sorry.         (On the plus side, it did help keep my skirt up….)

In the early afternoon, I heard the door ring and my dad called out that I had visitors. It was Kerstin and the girls! My dad had actually forgotten to tell me that they were coming, but it worked out better that way because it was a most fabulous surprise. I got to spend a few hours talking and laughing (not to mention playing) with three of my favorite people. And yes, I spent a good chunk of my first afternoon as a twenty year old playing hide and go seek. I couldn’t imagine a better way. Really, I think adults forget all too easily how much fun playing is.

I rested for a little bit after the visit, before joining my parents for a wonderful birthday dinner. I had snacked on some rice cakes (decorated with dried fruit and gummy bears, birthday cake style) Kerstin brought over and my stomach was doing well. I decided to go for it and tackle the planned birthday dinner. We had brown rice spaghetti with grilled chicken sausage, zuchinni, onions, and a little light lemon juice (which blended in perfectly)  and roasted butternut squash on the side. It was absolutely delicious. The pasta was incredible — I’m not sure exactly what all was in there in terms of spices (I know I’m leaving out some things), but it was wonderful. We all decided that we liked the brown rice pasta better than wheat pasta, too. It has a better texture than most wheat pastas (more like freshly made pasta, in my experience) and a better flavor. I think it could be a nice alternative to whole wheat pasta if someone doesn’t like that but still wants whole grains, or just a wonderful, easy option for pasta lovers in general. The butternut squash was delectable as well — fall is coming. (That sounds so much less foreboding than “Winter is coming,” doesn’t it?)

After dinner, and a break to allow my stomach to settle and Mom to “frost” the cake, we settled into the dining room for dessert and presents. The cake, which I referred to on Monday, turned out beautifully. I’m referring both to flavor and appearance, of course. Our substitutions for the cake part itself weren’t major, as I’m now eating gluten. (That would have been a more complicated endeavor!) Still, we swapped out almond milk for cow’s milk and Earth Balance for shortening with no ill effects. If there were any remaining almond flavor, it was insidious enough to please my father. The Earth Balance did make the “yellow cake” (made from an old, simple recipe book of my grandmother’s) more white than yellow. I also think it made it a bit fluffier, and therefore less dense, than shortening would have, but I found the texture very nice.

Frosting initially presented a more considerable challenge. Normally, I would go for a chocolate frosting. (Naturally.) However, I’m avoiding chocolate both because it hurts my stomach and because it’s one of the most likely triggers for my neurological problems. I hope to add it back into my diet someday, but I recognize that chocolate is perfectly acceptable sacrifice to make in the name of health. (Why can’t Harry Potter’s laws of the universe work in reality? Chocolate totally should have magical healing properties.) I’ve never been a huge frosting fan, and making a vanilla-type frosting with Earth Balance held no appeal. So, instead, I turned to a recipe my friend Janosz had introduced me to on Smitten Kitchen. We had made this raspberry filling for Kelsi’s birthday crepe cake. (Layers of buckwheat crepes, honey-sweetened raspberry filling, and homemade chocolate ganache. And no, it wasn’t just the ganache that was homemade — it was actually the chocolate. It was a  gluten-free, egg-free, soy-free, dairy-free, cane-sugar-free mound of divine goodness. I wish I had pictures to show but I realized that while I took about 5256000 of them during every stage of the process, they’re on Kelsi’s camera. Trust me, all of our friends were skeptical that the allergic Kelsi was able to eat it, it was that good.) My saint of a mother even strained out the raspberry seeds. It made a beautiful “frosting” that complemented the cake beautifully. This is a recipe I plan to keep around regardless of what my dietary restrictions become, as it absolutely trounces most frostings, in my opinion.

So, with a scoop of raspberry sorbet, we had a cake that I was able to eat and enjoy. Eating, and eating things I enjoy, on my birthday has been a major goal for me. I really wanted to be able to indulge in a piece of birthday cake. It’s funny, because if I had been at school I might not have even eaten cake literally on my birthday, but it took on a whole new importance here at home. I’m very happy to report that I succeeded.

Now, for the pictures!

Outfit for the day. Also, you can see my present. 🙂

Berry straining


19 Reasons Why I’m Happy

  1. Tomorrow is my birthday. I’m almost ridiculously excited about it, though I can’t put a finger on exactly why. I’ll admit that ever since I realized I wasn’t going back to Bryn Mawr this fall, I’ve been concerned that tomorrow would be difficult. It was supposed to be the first day of my senior year as well as the birthday where I reunited with all of my friends after over a year of being away for summer and study abroad. Now neither applies for me. But instead of feeling bittersweet about tomorrow, or even dreading it, I’m out right excited.
  2. This was my Saturday.

This may – and probably should – seem like a bizarre, counterintuitive, even disturbed reason for happiness. A day spent in the emergency room spent figuring out what to do with a stubbornly clogged feeding tube is never fun. However, it was a remarkably less painful experience than it could have been. We went up to the Feather River Hospital in Paradise again, as that’s where my gastroenterologist admits and we deal with most tube issues. The recently re-done emergency room provides an excellent set up, with a comfortable waiting area (genuinely!) and well-equipped private rooms in the ER. (I’ll appreciate whatever I can get, of course, but I am very much grateful for not having to reside in the hallway watching gruesome gurneys roll past while I’m nauseated.) I received excellent medical attention and the ER doctor quickly communicated with my GI to develop a plan of action. Moreover, every time I leave that hospital, I remark about how incredibly nice and happy everyone who works at Feather River is.

The best part: despite some fears to the contrary, I didn’t have to have my tube replaced! The radiologist managed to unclog it under x-ray. (Fun fact: They can now sometimes do bedside x-rays. While the openness of my tube had to be determined in an x-ray room, a tech was able to check for placement in my ER room with a rolling machine. I was impressed. Granted, she said she was only able to do it because of my size, or lack thereof.)

  1. Food, glorious food!

Very cautiously, I’m beginning to eat again. After a week of non-success followed by non-consumption, I started nibbling yesterday. (I actually started nibbling Saturday night, unsuccessfully, but I don’t want to talk about that.) It’s working, for the most part.

2. Reason 3 means that I should be able to spend some extra time untethered today.

3.My neighbor and friend Kerstin visited yesterday with her two adorable little girls.

Amaya wants the world to know that we’re twins because we shared a chair for this photo. And the 75 other attempts at a photo.

4. It looks like I’m going to be able to eat on my birthday. I set that as my goal when I first stopped taking in food by mouth, though I’ll admit that it was often expressed more as a desperate plea than a plan. It looks like it will actually work out.

5. My mom and I think we’ve figured out a way to make a cake I’ll enjoy without aggravating any of my myriad of allergies, intolerances, or sensitivities. I’ll update you on how that works out.

6.Amaya made me this fish decoration, which now brightens up my pump. Isn’t it pretty?

7. Ella joined in on the fun with a card. (And she’s writing! In German!)

8. My cat Duchess (and yes, she thinks/knows she is exactly that) has mostly gotten over her initial fears of the pump and the tube sticking out of my face and now likes to keep me company. As she’s doing right now.

9. I’ve taken to heart Ani’s suggestion about revisiting favorites among the childhood classics for reading material and I’m loving every minute of it.

A well-loved copy.

10. My new medicine is helping, thankfully.

11. Today feels like it’s going to be a good day. Fingers crossed it works out!

12. I’m talking to Dorothy! Love this girl.

13. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: my parents are simply amazing.

14. I’m managing to write fiction again. Just a tiny bit, and without really going anywhere, but feeling up for it at all is incredibly important to me. I have a friend who talks about how there are things we hold as fundamentally true about ourselves and how difficult it can be when one of those things is shaken. This is one of those things for me, and having it come back fills my heart with delight.

15. I’m happy I have this blog. I’m happy I have this outlet to express what I’m going through and this way to record it. I’m happy I’ve received so much support.

16. I’m grateful for my ability to navigate the medical system. I’m incredibly fortunate to have a family with the resources (which include intellectual, emotional, and temporal) to see that I receive the best possible care. As hard as everything is at times, it could be so much harder. I truly think of this every day — what if we couldn’t afford to pay for medications not covered by insurance? Or even frequent co-pays? Or insurance itself? What if I didn’t have family members with schedules flexible enough to enable them to spend days in the hospital with me? What if I didn’t have the ability to research my condition myself and seek comfort in my findings?

17. I feel like I sometimes complain a lot on this blog, which really doesn’t capture how I feel 95% of the time. This is a place to vent, a therapeutic outlet, and somewhere I’m confronting what’s going on in my life. But the thing is, I’m happy. Some of it stems from the fact that I am generally more of a happy person than not. But some of it’s because I feel comfortable in the knowledge that things are going to be okay.

18. One of the oddest things I’ve garnered from this week is a deep sense of security. The events of this week (and, yes, getting Reglan out of my system) have taught me that much. I’ve always known I have people who love and care about me, but I’m seeing now exactly what that means. I don’t have a cure or a magic bullet to heal my stomach, but I have medications that make me feel better and ways to feed me and, most of all, I have people who will make sure I get those when I need them. My parents, my doctors, my friends….I feel grateful beyond words.

19. This is my last day as a teenager. This is difficult to write about without resorting to cliché, and in particular cliché that can give the wrong impression of me. I was never a mall goth or a rampant Holden Caulfield quoter (though Salinger has been a favorite!) Aside from some more irrational moments of teen angst, I generally survived my teenaged years with the solid understanding that this, too, would pass. I didn’t feel so much that nobody understood me as that I just really wasn’t cut out for being a teenager. I didn’t have it bad; there’s no underlying trauma, no deep secret misfortune, or even receipt of high school bullying. (It’s pretty easy to avoid high school bullying when you, you know, don’t set foot in a real high school at any point during the four years….) For the last three years, my technical teenagerhood has been rather technical, anyway, as once you get to college things are different. (People dismiss the comparisons to Hogwarts as frivolous, but there really can be an arriving at Hogwarts feel to starting college.) I’ve grown into my own style. For the last year or two, many of my friends have been out of their teens, anyway, and we’ve begun to progress into the dinner party stage of life, in our own casual way. But there’s still something of a relief at having survived this decade intact and a sense of having arrived as I greet my twenties.