About Me

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Learning and trying to be kind and living my life as fully as I can stand it.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Less than 5 minutes

Leaving the dermatologist's office on Monday, I wandered into the quiet hallway. Not many people going to doctor's appointments during the last week of the year. As I approached the elevator I crossed paths with a short blond woman.

"I'm trying to figure out where I'm going!" she said.

"I think the elevator is right here,"I said pointing ahead of us.

The light streamed in from the wall of windows. The building was quiet except for our conversation. I pushed the button.

"Hospitals are so confusing!" she said. "I can never figure out where I'm going. They all look the same. I've been in so many at this point."

"They are confusing," I agreed. "I think that's why they pick the art they do, so you can navigate by telling yourself you're in the hall with flower pictures or kids' artwork."

The doors opened and we stepped in together. I pushed L. The doors closed.

"My husband just passed away, He was fifty-six" she said.

"I'm so sorry," I told her.

"We were in so many hospitals. Up in Santa Rosa. At John Muir. At County. The one in Santa Rosa wasn't so good."

I asked her which hospital. My work has me thinking in hospitals--where they are, how often we go there, what its personality is like, whether I've been there.

She told me. It wasn't one of ours. We share Santa Rosa with the OPO* in Sacramento.

The doors opened in the lobby, we walked out together.

"I'll tell you, of all the places we went County was the best."

"Oh good," I said. "In Martinez? That's good to hear."

"He died of cirrhosis. He bled out everywhere."

"Oh man. I'm so sorry." I said.

"I had a liver transplant myself."

Why did I tell her that? Because cirrhosis is a liver thing. Even though I thought there was a chance that knowing I'd been transplanted might make her sad or mad or bitter because it was likely that the possibility of transplant had come up for her husband at some point.

"Oh! So you know," she said.

"Yeah. And I work in transplant so I really know."

"Oh! So it must have been easier for you."

"I got my transplant before I started working in the field."

"Well, I have hepatitis C myself so I will probably need one myself someday," she said.

We walked out the front door together, into the cold sunshine. The parking lot was a third full of cars but there were no other people around.

"Maybe not," I said. "Have they said anything about it?"

"They say my liver looks good."

"Have you done interferon?" I asked.

"Nope! Haven't needed to."

"Well that's good. Maybe your liver will just stay fine. You never know. Good luck!"

We'd walked a few rows of cars in together and were coming to a point of going different ways.

"I can't believe you had a liver transplant! How long ago?" she asked.

"Fourteen years," I said. I pulled up my shirt to show her my scar and she leaned in to look closer. It was the first time we'd stopped walking outside of waiting for the elevator.

"Wow!" she exclaimed. "Good for you! Good luck!"

"Thank you," I said. "I'm really sorry about your husband."

She walked left, I walked right.

"We were married thirty years!" she yelled back. Smiling. I was smiling too.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Work history

For a meeting today I dressed in an oatmeal-colored tweed skirt and a soft brown sweater. Red suede t-strap heels completed the look, despite their impracticality. Sometimes you need to wear your power shoes.

Those shoes made me think of another pair of red heels--the ones I wore up on stage in front of 900 people. Several years ago I spoke during a plenary session of an industry-wide conference, my hand shaking as it held the mike. Can't even remember what the topic was. Looking good gave me confidence and I knew that once I started speaking my hand would stop shaking; it did.

Almost twelve years ago I went in for an interview for a position I was in no way qualified for. I saw the job listing on Craigslist--Transplant Coordinator. Transplant! Great. I'm a recipient! This is the job for me. I was two years post-transplant and my identity was Liver Girl. I thought a lot about my hospital experience, my surgery, how the whole thing had changed me. Still trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, I thought about how I could fit myself into this new world I'd been baptized into. I wasn't a doctor, I wasn't a nurse. What could I do?

They only called me for an interview because my surgeon put in a good word for me. Actually, I'm pretty sure he told them they had to hire me. The interview was for an Assistant Hospital Services Coordinator--mostly an administrative role. Absolutely for sure the worst interview of my life. I had no idea how much I didn't know. Recipient! I'm perfect for this job. . .wait, what do you do again? I was unprepared but I also knew I was smart and good at learning. The hiring manager asked all sorts of character-based questions that I had a hard time answering ("Tell me about a time you had to go around someone rather than through them" Ummmmmmmmmm) and I walked out of there cringing. Nonetheless I got called back for a second interview. Back then the CEO interviewed everyone herself and within five minutes of my interview with her I knew I would get the job. We recognized each other right away. She deserves her own post.

My first day at the office I felt. . . wholly alive. Like I had arrived at the place that was everything I'd never known I'd always wanted. People were smart and curious and caring. The office was attractive and full of windows. I started on a Monday and sat in on the weekly morning conference call, during which most of the organization reviewed the cases from the week before. I could not believe I was there, part of this conversation.

I was in that assistant position for less than a year. During one of my many trips back to the intimidating but exciting closed door of the Placement department I caught that team's eye because I was able to be taught how to fill out one of their forms with relative ease and they were desperately under-staffed. I got invited to apply for a job that usually sought out people with science backgrounds. My Spanish-Literature degree was not anything that meant anything to anyone in this role. Training involved learning how organ allocation works, learning to speak to surgeons on the phone where I would describe the medical histories and current organ function of all sorts of different patients. I could barely remember what a normal pH was. Hell, I barely understood what pH meant let alone what arterial blood gases, diabetes insipidus, cardiac output, and pulmonary hypertension were. There was a lot to learn and I had a great many teachers. For at least a year I would occasionally wake up from a dead sleep and feel like I'd almost just remembered this vital piece of information that someone had told me was essential to doing this job, but then it would slip through my fingers and I would sit there in the dark worrying that one day they'd all realize I had no idea what I was doing.

They told me and every other hire it would take at least a year to get good at the job, and that they you would have to worry about being too comfortable. That once you lost the fear of messing up, you really had to pay extra attention to make sure you didn't mess up. It was fast-paced, emotional, exciting, fulfilling work. I carried a text pager and a cell phone and worked twelve hour night shifts. Sometimes twenty-four hour shifts. I made some truly amazing things happen in that job.

As an outsider I was able to notice many things about this new world of mine. How in the medical field people can be afraid to admit when they don't know something. Understandable, because we want our doctors and everyone involved to know all the answers. I didn't have to worry about that. Everything was new to me and I just wanted to learn as much as I could. I learned and learned. Passed the national certification test--one of the first in my department and one of a short list in the entire company. Passed by one point :-)

I often wondered how it was that I'd been allowed into whatever room or conversation I was in. The first time I put on scrubs and went into the operating room to observe organs being recovered from a brain-dead patient. I saw a heart beating inside the chest; the next second it was in a doctor's gloved hand. I gazed at perfect, pearl-like lungs. Inflated with air, held aloft They were so unbelievably beautiful I still catch my breath picturing them more than ten years later. The patient's toes also struck me. Her toenails were painted with glittery, lavender polish, slightly chipped. After the organ recovery was complete I reached my hand out and held her foot to say thank you and to hold her in my heart as she must have been just days before, painting her nails or having them painted. I was awed to be there.

I gave that talk on the big stage. I got invited to give other talks. I led meetings where I was explaining a new biopsy protocol to a group of doctors and they were the ones asking me how we planned to do things. I wrote policies. I had an an article published about kidney allocation. I was invited to join and then head committees.

I became a quality specialist and then a supervisor. A year later I was asked to apply for a new management role in a different department. The Clinical department. If I'd thought the old Placement door was intimidating, this was a different level entirely. These were the people who had been my main teachers. I was going to manage them? I was scared.

That job was the hardest thing I have ever done professionally. It crushed me. I doubted myself. I didn't know how to do a good job and that bothered me so much. I upset many people, many different times. For a long while I lost my ability to admit when I didn't know something. I felt like I had to be the Boss. The person who knows. No good for anyone.

But I learned. So, so much. And I had moments of great success and pride. I had someone ask me to manage her team, telling me "A year ago I would have said no way but you've grown so much now it would be great to have you manage us." I stepped into operating rooms and was the one explaining what was about to happen, the one answering questions. I started asking questions again, starting letting go of my fear of being exposed as someone who didn't know. I needed to know and I needed people to teach me.

The moments of wonder. The pure, acute humanity we get to stand next to when we do this work. The times I got to sit next to a person when his or her heart stopped. To be there, holding space for that moment and for their families. To honor their lives. To be surrounded by such deep grief and to know there is nothing you can do to make it go away. To know this is only the beginning of great pain and adjustment to the unrecoverable loss. And to sit there anyway because that is the one thing we can do for one another. Be present and make room. Be a professional who is not in the grief, but next to it. And work as hard as we can to make the most of the gifts those people have given others.

I'm not the same person I was when I started this work. The work has changed, my role has changed, and I have changed. The future will bring more change--I'm not sure what. I'm ready. I'm smart and I'm good at learning.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tuesday night

This blog is like a silent companion that I talk to in my head. I've always had this internal monologue running but now it's filtered through the lens of how I would write about what's happening. Like the way the photography class I took Freshman year in college made me notice the world around me with entirely new eyes.

I want to write but I am a sleep scavenger. I will grab minutes of sleep where I can get them, particularly in the mornings when I'm curled around one of my little girls on the couch as one after the other they wake up, drink a bottle and fall back to sleep in my arms.. It is those early morning hours when I could find the most time to sit and write. But sleeps pulls me down every time. Sleep and one-on-one baby cuddles.

Thoughts today, in the order that they find their way back into my cloudy memory, not the order in which they occurred:

-The look on my son's face when he sees me is just. . . radiant. I can't believe how lucky I feel to be looked at that way.

-I feel very vulnerable these days. It's hard not to throw up my walls and go all Ice Queen and shrug certain things off. I'm glad I'm learning to recognize when I feel this way and to ease myself through it.

-I have such spectacular women friends. I had four different exchanges today; one a vent session on the phone with someone I've been friend with since I was a kid. The other a Facebook messenger exchange with someone I've met in person only twice or three times but who has the ability to make me feel known and accepted in less than ten sentences. One a phone call with a friend who is falling in love. The tenderness in her voice was a promise of wonderful things to come. And finally a work call with a younger colleague who gave me just what I needed emotionally in a totally unexpected way.

-I almost never tell people "It will be ok" Mostly because I hated it when people said that to me after my liver transplant. I was in the throes of grieving my old life and adjusting to this huge new thing (whoa, dramatic but hey it was a dramatic time). I wanted to yell at people, "Oh REALLY? It will be ok?? How do you KNOW? Who are YOU to promise that?" and then punch them in the nose. In my mind. I would never punch someone in their real nose. Similar reactions occurred in response to being told "Everything happens for a reason." (Gah! No it doesn't!)

So I almost never tell people it will be ok but I quite often tell myself that. Huh.

-Holding my daughter on my lap and dancing her to The Little Drummer Boy and watching the funny faces she made, the way she moved her head, the way she moved her body, was like drinking a life-giving tonic. Man, that kid.

I don't know what the future holds. Having four babies is overwhelming and just. . .so much life to contend with. But I know myself so much better than I ever have. And I have such a good net of people who love me and take care of me and cheer me on. And I have the incredible good-fortune to get to see these four little people every day. To know them, to watch them grow, to squeeze them and make them laugh. To pull me out of the tiring inner monologue, out of my head and into my body, onto my butt onto the floor with hands on my face and feet in my lap and drool all over everything. I'll take it.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


We introduced the big kids to hot cocoa this evening. They weren't sure at first and it was hard to figure out what kind of cup to serve it in but once we brought straws out they were big fans. Lily looked at me, then to the cup, then to her dad and said "Mm!"

Earlier we went out front in rain boots and pj's with jackets on top. I jumped into a big puddle in the driveway and the look on Lily's face was what I dreamed of when I imagined being a mother. She jumped right in and was so thrilled. The rain came down on us and the four of us explored the puddles and the wet grass and the wet cards.

After giving both big kids hot chocolate and a chocolate cookie I thought it would be better parenting to actually give them true sustenance so I started making some mac n cheese. (The food we feed our kids is actually really important to me though that is not apparent at all from the previous sentences. Or maybe it is. Food means many things and ceremony is definitely one of them.)

I started making the pasta and the kids stayed in their high chairs, getting a bit impatient but hanging tight for the most part. I asked my husband to put on some Christmas music, expecting to hear Jingle Bells or something. Out poured the strains of a song I didn't recognize. A church choir singing something about our savior being born. "This is a Christmas song?" I asked, before hearing the part about the savior.

The music filled the room and filled spaces in my heart. I love Christmas so much. Memories of driving through San Francisco when it was dark, seeing the big tree at the edge of Golden Gate Park lit up with long strands of lights like the bright shadow of a hot air balloon. Watching my mom and dad and sister brother open gifts. Waiting for my dad to get a cup of coffee so we could open stockings. And going to Mass, at midnight or earlier depending on how old we were and what church we were going to and so many other things.

I watched my first-born twins feed themselves, together as they almost always are. Looking up at me sometimes with their bright shiny heart-stopping faces. Being themselves, being little. Safe. Warm. Fed. Loved. I felt and feel so much joy.

Joy. That's not a word I use lightly or often. Listening to the churchy Christmas songs--Little Drummer Boy, Oh Holy Night, What Child is This, Silent Night. The voices are so filled with joy which to me is different than happiness. It is heavier, it aches a bit. It is full of gratitude. Blessedness. Awe.

I grew up Catholic and I'm not practicing now. I am one of those many people who has described herself as "spiritual but not that religious". When I was younger I didn't think about being Catholic. Church and CCD were part of what we did as a family. I spent most of the time in the Red Room baby-sitting the younger children and it's from way back then that I knew I wanted to be a mama. I didn't get confirmed because by then weekend soccer games had replaced going to Mass. I went to a Jesuit high school and then a Jesuit college and I just kind of forgot that not everyone was Catholic. Even though not everyone at those schools was Catholic, enough were that it just blended into the background and became an invisible choice. It just was.

For several years I've been missing something that I consider the spiritual aspect of my life. I haven't been sure I wanted to start going to church again but I could tell that something important was not being given the time and space it needed for me to feel full. I believe in God but it's not something that I think that much about or try to explain or defend. I don't ascribe to everything written in the Bible and I disagree with many of the stances of the Church, big "C". I love the new Pope and his words have beckoned me back more than once. And for sure being a mom has brought up questions about what I want to surround my children with.

The words and the music and the tone of the voices singing about Christmas wrapped me up and gave me a Christmas Carol kind of moment. Where I could stand back and look into this warmly lit kitchen at these two young children and imagine the joy at being told that a blessed child had been born. I think having that story as part of Christmas when I was growing up is part of why I love it so much.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

New home

Yes, I'm sending out "New Home" cards with our address. From the house we moved into in March. The text of the card lists four of our names and then says. . .and more to come. Because I bought them while still pregnant and, though we knew what we'd be naming our daughters, we didn't want to announce their names on these cards. This of course became a moot point when they were born, two months after the cards were purchased and still six months before I'm actually getting them in the mail.

Yes, when my aunt visited us two months ago and saw the stack of these cards sitting on our dining room table she thought I was crazy. Who sends out change of address cards with two sets of twins under the age of two? The same person who still has thank-you notes to write from June. . . I'm on top of it.

Side note: a friend of mine texted last night to ask "Dude! Are you pregnant??"

"WHAT?!? No!" I replied. Except my reply had a very bad word in it.

He and his girlfriend thought the ellipses meant there were even more to come. Ack! Oh my God, please tell me I didn't just send a confusing semi-pregnancy announcement to a big group of people. And no, definitely definitely not pregnant. I might die. My husband would lose his mind. In fact he asked me more than once if I'd gotten my period yet during the month of November just because this time of year has that "holy shit maybe we're having twins again" kind of feel to it.

End of side note.

The idea of committing to an address long enough to make it worthwhile to send a card appeals to me. Our home. We can see ourselves living here for many years. Raising this brood here. Learning to garden here. Growing accustomed to what the seasons look like here, for there actually are seasons in Concord, California. (This native San Franciscan was shocked to find this out)

 I moved a lot in my 20s and early 30s. So often that when we were filling out the loan paperwork for this house I really had to sit and think hard in order to list out my addresses for the past ten years. The Ship To page of my Amazon account was helpful. Otherwise it was me thinking things like "Ok, I'm 36 so ten years ago I was 26. I started dating T when I was 27 and at the point I think I was living on Steiner. . ." Eight to ten addresses later my brain was tired.

The New Home cards represent the me I like to be. Someone who takes a moment to recognize and celebrate transitions and big moments. We moved into this house when I was four months pregnant. Our big kids were nine months old. We didn't get movers so the first two weeks were an intense sprint of me taking care of the kids all day while my husband moved us out, moved us in, fixed up the old house, fixed up the in-law unit, all the while going to work and staying up until three or four in the morning. We all slept in the same room the first few nights, the two of us on our mattress on the floor and the kids each on their crib mattresses pushed up against the wall, with us on the other side of them. It stayed light until past seven o'clock and we didn't have curtains up yet so these babies were being told to go to sleep in new rooms, bright with sun. And then they started majorly teething. And got sick. And I think we both almost went insane.

So moving cards! We are here. We are alive. And more to come. . .

Friday, December 5, 2014

Unedited #2

I started writing a post about white privilege last week after the non-indictment decision in the Michael Brown case but got tangled up in the words and put it away, vowing to finish it later.

Speaking of unfinished posts I have the following:

-One about all the crying that was happening in my house one day during the four week sick-fest that included Hand, Foot, Mouth disease, croup, a trip to the ER, a random cold, sickness in both parents and our baby-sitter plus her roommate and also maybe her kids, and almost a month of non-stop diarrhea and diaper rash/yeast infection in the little babies. So that happened. It was not sweet.

-Another post about another scream-heavy day during which some neighbors who had twin boys in August stopped by. We'd met them back in April (maybe? some month before June) at a neighborhood party. I knew we were due around the same time but I couldn't remember their names nor where specifically they lived so I had no way of finding them. I think I drove by them once but I was in the van with all four babies and the idea of randomly pulling to the side of busy Clayton Road to jump out and semi-accost some semi-strangers with two newborns in blue blankets seemed less than ideal. SO. They somehow knew how to find us and stopped by during an atrocious 49'ers game and sat down on our dog-hair-covered rug to chat for a while. The look of relief on their faces when I told them how much the first couple months suck with newborn twins was immense. The mom said "Oh THANK YOU for saying that. We thought we were the only ones" So that post got started and never finished. . .

-A post where I started writing my parenting manifesto which includes a list of seven things (numbered) that feel important to me as a parent. I envisioned making a complete list which would at the very least give me something to laugh at and roll my eyes at in a few years. But I got overwhelmed by how hard it was to put things into words so I saved the draft and haven't gone back

-A post entitled "Tell me what you want baby cuz I got what you need" in which I explore the difference between wanting someone/something and needing someone/something.

-A post that is somehow about buying our house but also about how much I love San Francisco and my feelings about the suburbs. . .

-A post that starts with "My fingernails are jagged and too long" (that sounds like one people are clamoring to read) p.s. I also just spelled clamoring "clammering". Sigh. Jesuit educators around the world are cringing at how far I've fallen. I blame Spanish and spellcheck

-A post about how important the women in my life are

-A post about how to talk to kids about current events

-And a post about a trunk show I hosted in August that I think was going to be about making time for things that are important to me but I'm not sure because that was August and I can barely remember yesterday

Speaking of remembering I brought up dream feeds with my husband two nights ago and started explaining how the twin listserve talks about how they can be a good bridge for helping babies sleep though the night and he said "Yeah, I know we did those with Lily and Cyrus". And I stared at him blankly because even after he said that I had absolutely no recollection of ever doing that with our older twins who are only 18 months old. I hope I write some good things in this blog to help my kids see aspects of their childhoods because it doesn't seem like I will be recounting many stories to them. It's all a blur!

There are 8 more posts still in draft form--the list of drafts is so long it didn't even fit on one page. So it appears I need to finish some thoughts? Let go of some fear and perfectionism? Edit less? Not sure. But there are lots of words hanging in the ether.

What do you want to know about? It can be any of these or something new. Poke me with a proverbial stick please.