Archive | December 2012

The Daily Post: Weekly Photo Challenge: Surprise

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It was April 12, 2012.  It was the anniversary of terrible surprises.

I won’t name them all.  Just a few.

It was the anniversary of the day I was certain that my unborn babies and I would die in the hospital.  It was the day after Easter.  I had been hospitalized with preeclampsia since the week before when I had gone to my check-up and was told that I needed an emergency induction.  I was sent next door to the “best” hospital in our region.  The hospital with the Level III NICU.  The hospital that people traveled across counties and hundreds of miles for.  I had been in active, induced labor for 4 days by April 12, 2004.  By then, the preeclampsia had become severe.  I was so sick.  I was shaking.  I was bleeding (from a yet-to-be diagnosed placental abruption).  I was being pumped with high doses of pitocin to keep me in active labor — and competing doses of magnesium sulfate because my blood pressures were so dangerously high.  And I had gained an inconceivable almost 100 lbs in edema weight since my admission into the hospital.  My organs were shutting down.  I was hearing Christmas music when there was no sound.  I was dying.  And my babies were, too.

Fast forward to April 12, 2005.  One year later.  Two days before my babies’ 1st birthdays.  The day the woman who was like a second mother to me took her life… a woman who also had breast cancer young (but for her, her diagnosis came in her 40’s)… a woman who was also the mother of one of my two very best childhood friends.  I had known her for what felt like my whole life.  I had lived with her during a rough patch in my life.  And now she lived around the corner from me in a house matching mine.  And she had reached out to me and asked me to spend more time with her…but I was so wrapped up in my own traumas and exhaustion that I didn’t see her as much as I should have.  I thought there would be more time.  And then the call came on April 12 that I was too late.  We all were.

And fast forward ahead again to April 12, 2010.  This was the day before I learned for sure that I had breast cancer.  Nuff said.

But…

I had to put these difficult/horrible memories the back burner because April 12, 2012 was 2 days before my twin sons’ birthdays.  It was also their Spring Recess from elementary school.  So we wanted to do something special and make some happy memories for their birthdays.

We packed up the car the day before and set our sights on Philadelphia.  I never been there, but we had free passes for the nearby Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ.  Since it was “only” about an 8 hour drive and we had heard the aquarium was something special, we couldn’t pass the opportunity up.

April 12, 2012.  After a struggle with traffic and an almost unsuccessful quest to find cheap parking, we arrived at the aquarium much later than I had planned.

And I was already exhausted.  You see, only a couple of weeks before I was lying in an operating room while my gynecologic oncologist was performing a radical hysterectomy and oopherectomy on me.  I was 35 and wanted another baby.  But what all of the breast cancer crap would have made unwise and extremely difficult, large masses that we were all certain would come back as ovarian and pelvic metastasis, made perfectly impossible.

surprise the daily post weekly photo challenge cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer feeding the stingrays philadelphia camden, nj Adventure Aquarium thirties 30s mom motherhood family sting ray tank touch wadingDespite this, I entered the crowded aquarium in a wheelchair and with a twinkle in my eye.  I was planning to enjoy the day with my boys.

It was when I was handed a map at the admission desk that I first saw it.  There was something special going on today.  At precisely something-o’clock (I don’t remember when the something was!), a few lucky aquarium goers would be selected from the crowd for a special stingray encounter.  Now this wasn’t your average aquarium encounter.  This was an opportunity to wade into the large stingray pool to hand-feed the rays!

I was determined to be one of the lucky few.

But there were a few major issues with my plan.

  1. My plan wasn’t a plan.
  2. I generally don’t win things.
  3. The place was packed.  And I mean packed.  Everyone with kids on Spring Break clearly had the same idea as we did.  It seemed like the whole east coast was in the aquarium.  There was no way I would be able to get anywhere near the stingray tank, let alone in it.

Nevertheless, I told my husband and my boys that I would be in that tank that afternoon.  My husband told me to give it up.  There was no way.  So we visited the other exhibits and made our way through the aquarium.  We were looking at the hippos in a giant tank filled with hippos, fish and hippo poo when I said, “Oh no, it’s 5 minutes til something-o’clock!”

Unable to run because of the surgery and my post-chemo fatigue, I asked my husband to push me over to the exhibit, an exhibit located almost all the way over on the opposite side of the aquarium.  He told me that it was impossible to get there in 5 minutes and that even if I did, I would never get near the tank and I would certainly never be chosen.

No matter.  I called in all of my favors and groveled, something I never ever never do with him.  I was determined.  So we weaved in and out of the crowds and crowds of people and finally made our way around after what felt like an eternity.  When we arrived near the entrance of the giant stingray room and pool, I emerged from the wheelchair and we left it outside.  I walked into a densely packed room filled with children and adults alike.  It was chaos.

And we were late.  They were asking the audience 4 questions.  4 people who were given the opportunity to answer the questions and who answered correctly would be invited into the tank.   The selection process had already begun.  I had already missed question 1.

Question 2 came and at least 50 hands shot up in a crowd of many more than that.  The tank-keeper wouldn’t even see me.  She selected a child in front and, with the assistance of her dad, the girl gave the correct answer.  Question 2 came.  50 or 60 more hands.  She chose a teenager in front who also answered correctly.

The final question came.  “What kind of seastar is this?”  I knew the answer.  My hand shot up with about 1,000 others.  She asked a child.  Wrong answer.  She asked an adult.  Wrong answer.  I was so buried in the crowd that she would never see me.

But then she pointed in my direction.  “The young lady with the longish red-brown hair.”

“Oh, that’s not me,” I thought.  “I have ugly short not red-brown ‘I’ve had lots of chemo’ hair.”

But then I remembered that I was wearing my lovely wig.  It was me.  She was asking me.  “A chocolate chip seastar,” I shouted!

It was the right answer and I was invited to come out of the crowd to get ready for my encounter.

It was incredible.  I changed out of my winter boots and into the crocs they offered me and we walked up the ramp to be debriefed.  We would be given dead fish parts to hold between our fingers and the rays would glide across our hands and take the carcasses into their mouths.

I could barely contain my excitement.  I had never done anything like this before.

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com thirties 30s stingrays sting ray weekly photo challenge surprise hysterectomy twins aquarium camden, nj philadelphia mom motherhood infertilitySo I waded into the tank and began feeding these beautiful creatures.  It was an incredible experience.  And I made a new friend, a giant ray who seemed to want to climb into my lap like one of my dogs.  He didn’t take the food from me, but let me pet him as he slid up my shins and splashed me.

When it was over and we were washing our feet off and changing our shoes in the little prep room, I was so overwhelmed with the beauty of the experience that I felt the need to say something to the tank’s keeper.

I told her that I was surprised to have been chosen.  Shocked, actually.  I told her that this was such a special experience for me because for the past 2 years I had been battling breast cancer.  She told me that I was so young and she gave me a hug.  She said that she was a 10 year breast cancer survivor.  She said that though they caught hers early, she still looks over her shoulder, wondering if it will return.  But she said that it also makes her grateful for every day that she is here.

I thanked her with tears in my eyes and we parted.  She felt good about her choice.  And I felt grateful for this once in a lifetime opportunity to wade with the stingrays.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Surprise

If you would like to participate in The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/category/photo-challenges/

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/12/21/weekly-photo-challenge-surprise/

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Update: Received My Cheap Holiday Cards…

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Photo Credit: blackcollegereunion.com

Hello dear readers,

Just a quick update on my “Procrastinator’s Unite” post…

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer kids mom thirties 30s Christmas holidays deals freebies freeI received the “test card” I had mailed to my address and was not expecting much when I opened the envelope.  In fact, the deal on the cards was so spectacular — $0.24 per custom photo card including a FREE 1st class stamp!!! — that I was expecting less than ‘not much.’  I was expecting cardstore.com to close up shop in the dark of the night after I placed my order.  I was expecting them to disappear, papers blowing in the wind, tumbleweed rolling by their empty office building…  I was expecting that they would vanish without a trace, their pockets overflowing with my $13.03 (for 55 photo cards and stamps!!!).

But that’s not how things played out.  I opened the card envelope (complete with a FREE 1st Class Stamp) and…the card is lovely!  The cardstock is nice and is a sustainably sourced paper (bonus!).  And the print quality (on both sides) is quite good.

Now I just hope their prices stay low enough to make my next order a great deal — because I will be back!

Wishing you all the happiest of holidays…

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Delicate

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PowerPort (port) through which chemo and other medicines and fluids can be administered. Also great for lab draws and scans for which I.V. contrast is necessary. I was reluctant to have the port placement ‘surgery’ back on May 7, 2010. But I am so glad I wasn’t given a choice & was ‘forced’ to do it — it has been a lifesaver!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Delicate

If you would like to participate in The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/category/photo-challenges/

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/photo-challenge-delicate/

GUEST POST: A Holiday Season With Cancer

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*Just so there is no confusion, this is me (NOT Heather)*
Christmas 2010

***

I am pleased to introduce guest writer Cameron Von St. James.   I was honored when Cameron approached me to ask about posting an article here.  After reading a little bit about what his family has dealt with, I was also moved and inspired…and I thought you would be, too.  With a new baby to care for and the holiday season just beginning, Cameron’s wife, Heather, was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer.  Their story is both heartbreaking and heartwarming.

Please join me in welcoming Cameron Von St. James…

__________________

A Holiday Season With Cancer

The holiday season has always been near and dear to my heart. It was always a time when my family came together to practice our holiday traditions and give thanks for all that we have in life.

In 2005, I was especially excited for the holidays, as my wife Heather had just given birth to our first child, Lily, and we couldn’t wait to establish our own traditions with our new family. Those feelings of giddiness were stamped out completely when we learned, three days before Thanksgiving, that Heather had cancer.

Our daughter was only three and a half months old when we learned that Heather was suffering from malignant pleural mesothelioma. I knew enough about the disease to be concerned for our future. The anger I felt was overwhelming, and I found myself preparing for the worst.

I dreaded the holiday celebrations that year, during which Heather’s family came to stay with us before she headed off to a treatment center in Boston. During dinners that should have been about seasonal togetherness, we discussed how her family could come to terms with Heather’s deadly disease. We talked about the future of our finances and childcare options for Lily. We made plans to pay for Heather’s expensive treatments, and to my embarrassment discussed how her family could help us stay afloat financially.  Heather and I both worked, but with the new baby money was already tight, and with expensive treatment and travel looming, on top of the fact that we would soon be down to one income when Heather started treatment, we were going to be in real trouble. Heather’s family helped us figure out what we could liquidate for cash, and how much they could afford to pay for. I was mortified and embarrassed, and it would be years before I could look back on that conversation with anything but shame.

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Mesothelioma
Image courtesy of http://www.mesothelioma.com

I was so awash with negative emotions that I couldn’t see what I now see today. I realize now how mistaken I was to look at this time so negatively.  What I see now is that I was being so firmly supported by our family – people who came from afar to be with Heather, Lily and me during our moment of need. They were willing to help us in any way possible, they offered to make incredible sacrifices of their own for our well-being, but I was so weighed down with guilt and fear that I couldn’t see that clearly.

In spite of the odds against her, Heather eventually beat mesothelioma. This holiday season I want to take the time to give thanks for everything that I have; I know how much family means because of how close I came to losing the most important person in my life. I am so thankful for my little Lily’s continued health and growth and for all the people who helped us through our dark times. Thank you so much! You’ve all given me a reason to look forward to celebrating the holidays.

*******************

Special thanks to Cameron and his wife for sharing their story…

Would you like to be featured here?  

If you have something to share, please send me an email:

cancerinmythirties@yahoo.com

                        

Thank You & Happy Holidays!

Procrastinators Unite! Photo Cards — Printed, Addressed, Mailed w/ FREE STAMPS for $0.25

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My Boys — Christmas Card Photo

Still need to order your holiday photo cards, greeting cards or invitations?  Here’s an amazing deal:

Place your order before 11:59 p.m. ET on 12/17 and you will not only receive FREE Standard Shipping (through USPS), but you will also receive 70% off your photo card order.  AND, like I did, you could choose to have CardStore.com address, stamp (with a 1st class stamp!) and mail your cards on your behalf for no charge (THE STAMP IS EVEN FREE)!!!

This is a PHENOMENAL deal!  I ended up paying $0.24 each for my 4″ x 8″ holiday photo cards — printed, addressed and stamped!  All for less than the cost of a 1st class stamp (did I mention that the stamp was free?)!

Of course I did order a “value” design (because “Value” is my middle name — well, not really!) and didn’t have the 1,000 card choice options I’m accustomed to each year, but for $13 for 55 photo cards, stamped and mailed, I didn’t mind.  And even if you choose to class it up a bit more with a Signature or Premium card, this is still a terrific deal!

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Not really our holiday card — but a quick mock-up! Our personalized text is missing and the pic is pixelated in this one.

My cards were also so cheap because I ordered 55 and received a quantity discount.  I’m not sure how many cards push you into the “quantity” range — and I’m too tired to test it.  But the prices are still low, even without an added discount.  The drawback?  They say that the cards should reach my recipients on or before 12/22.  A little late by most people’s standards, but still before Christmas.  And had I found the deal and ordered sooner, this would have been a non-issue.  But I’m so exhausted all the time & we just got our tree this week & didn’t take our traditional “under the tree” photo until Thursday, so I’m trying not to chastise myself too much!

Celebrating Kwanzaa?  Their Kwanzaa card selection is also governed by the same deals.  Season’s Greetings cards, too.

And, hey, these are such a great deal that you could make New Year’s cards or invitations and be an early bird with them!

Here’s the breakdown of my order: 

55 “Value Design” 4″ x 8″ photo cards (flat)

  •  Each card is Printed, Addressed (my return address and the recipient’s address), Stamped (FREE) and Mailed to my individual recipients!

Cost:

Cards:  $1.09 each  LESS  quantity discount   LESS   70% off ALL Holiday Photo Cards, Greeting Cards or Invitations  =  $0.24 each!

Stamps:  $0.00

Shipping:  $0.00

Grand Total:  $13.03 including 55 stamps!

So, design away!  Just be sure to place your order before 11:59 p.m. ET Monday night to take advantage of all of the discounts.  I’ll include some links below to help you get started.

P.S.  They even include a fancy schmancy Excel spreadsheet template you can use if you don’t want to individually add addresses on their web site.  Login, go to “All You” and click “Address Book.”  Fill in your addresses and when you are ready to order your cards, just import the spreadsheet and, voila, you’ll see all of your addresses there.

P.P.S. I am in NO way affiliated with CardStore.com.  I just found them this morning and am using them for the very first time (in lieu of spending more and ordering from “big-box” stores like I usually do).

P.P.P.S.

The 70% off Holiday Cards code:  CCP2147 — Be sure to enter it at checkout!!!  Expires 12/17 11:59 p.m. ET

Free Standard Shipping or Free Stamps code — There isn’t one, just order by 12/31

Christmas Value cards link:  http://www.cardstore.com/shop/christmas/cards/bargain

Kwanzaa cards link (No “value” option):   http://www.cardstore.com/shop/kwanzaa

New Year’s cards link:  http://www.cardstore.com/shop/new-years

Season’s Greetings Value cards link:  http://www.cardstore.com/shop/seasons-greetings/bargain

————–

Happy Holidays!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Changing Seasons

A collection of photos for the changing seasons:

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Fall Becomes Winter
“Winter Through the Window”

cancerinmythirties.wordpress breast cancer weekly photo challenge changing seasons swan

Winter Becomes Spring

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Spring Becomes Summer

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Summer Becomes Fall

If you would like to take part in the challenge, please visit:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/weekly-photo-challenge-changing-seasons/

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/category/photo-challenges/

Thank you!

$50 Straws AND How Cancer Changes Everything

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A different day. A different place. In a less hospitally-looking reclining chair at the Cancer Center.

This will probably seem like an odd post, but I’m going to present a snippet of my afternoon from two different perspectives for no other reason than “just because.”  Thanks for indulging me.

Scenario 1:

Across the room, a girl sits in a recliner with a small table beside her.  She is sipping a large cup of tea.  The tea bag tag dangles gently over the edge of her cup. The girl stares off into the distance and a smile crosses her lips.  What is she thinking about?  Perhaps she is remembering a lover from her college days?  Maybe she is picturing a basket of puppies?

Wait… judging from a frame most would describe as thin and a belly that is unmistakably large and rounded, it’s clear that she must be pregnant — she must be thinking of the baby growing in her womb.  Yes.

Her eyes light up as she thinks of the “baby duckling yellow” paint color she and her husband chose for the baby’s room this morning.  “It’s not too masculine, not too feminine, and it will be easy to paint over if we decide to change it when the baby gets a bit older.”  She bites her lip as she wonders how she is going to wait for the next three months to meet her new baby.  She has slipped her calendar out of her purse and is making a list of baby names now.  It’s the same list she and her husband have been coming up with every night before bed.  But she thinks she might have a revelation and “the one” might pop into her head today.

She continues her list.

She is mostly alone as she relaxes in the large open room filled with beds and curtains and chairs just like hers.  Mostly.  She has a number of visitors over the course of the next hour.  Each one stops by to chat briefly with her.  She laughs and talks with them individually.  And then her visitors move on, one by one.

She continues to sip on her unusually large cup of hot tea. Her final visitor is dressed in white and bears the name of her grandmother.  Her hands are full, but with what?  It’s hard to say.  The visitor dressed in white sits across from the girl and then leans toward her for an unusually long time.  She holds what looks like a long, shiny pin or needle in her hand.  Odd.  But when she stands up to walk away, her hands are empty and she and the girl are both smiling.  She now has something pinned to her chest — a flower perhaps?

Just as her name is called she looks at her list.  She is clearly pleased with her accomplishment and is excited to share this new name with her husband.  It was her grandmother’s name.

She slides gracefully out of the chair (well, as gracefully as a pregnant woman can) to meet the woman who beckoned her.  They walk happily down the hall together and slip into a room nearby.  The door closes behind them.

When they emerge, they are smiling and walking again.  The girl is stroking her belly, as if to comfort the baby inside.  She returns to her chair as the lady in white brings her a cocktail with one of those cute little paper umbrellas poking out from the rim of the glass. She relaxes for a bit longer before rising from her comfy chair, bidding adieu to her friends and walking out to greet her waiting husband.

————————————————

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Cartoon Credit: chibird.tumblr.com

Scenario 2:

I am sitting in a large, sterile room.  Across the way, I see a girl…or a woman, really.  She looks biologically young, but I can tell she has been weathered by experience.  Something tells me that she probably still thinks of herself as a girl in the quiet morning hours when everyone else is asleep.  So I will indulge her and call her “a girl.”  It’s the least I can do.

The woman, uh, girl, is sitting in a reclining hospital chair.  Beside her is a small table where alcohol swabs and some medical paraphernalia sit. She holds a large, lidded Styrofoam cup, the largest one I have ever seen, in her hands.  Dangling on the side of the cup I see a tea bag tag.  She looks at the bit of wisdom the tag has to dispense, rolls her eyes, and takes a sip from her straw.  Odd that she is drinking hot tea through a straw.  Maybe she’s one of those women who don’t want to stain their teeth so they drink their tea and coffee through straws?

Just then a nurse walks over to her and asks her to sign a form stating that she understands the risk of drinking this tea.  WTF?

Well, it’s not your average tea.  It’s tea that has been infused with a radiocontrast agent.  Is it radioactive tea?

The girl stares off into the distance and a smile crosses her lips.  She is thinking of a sandy beach in a warm place far away.  “If this is more cancer,” she thinks, “I am moving to that beach.”

She puts her hand on her protruding belly and secretly hopes one of the nurses will ask her if she is pregnant when she signs the next consent form.  It’s an odd thing to hope for, almost masochistic, really.  She pictures what she would say in response to the question.  “Of course I’m not pregnant.  I’ve been gutted.  Every part that makes me a woman (except the “V” one) has been stolen from me.  I am empty inside.  Dead inside.  And, oh, this?  It’s edema.  My belly is swollen with fluid.  No baby.  I’m here to see if it’s cancer in here, not a baby.  My fate was sealed at 33 when those lumps in my breast were written off as nothing.”

Of course no one asks her if she is pregnant.  They all know the answer.  They all know why she is here.

And she wouldn’t have the guts to say what’s on her mind, anyway.  She wouldn’t want to hurt or bewilder anyone.  She wouldn’t want to ruin anyone’s day.  So she thinks about what she would really say.  “Nope, just fluid.”

She snaps out of her daydream when a second nurse asks to see the port in her chest.  They’ll need it later.

She slips her calendar out of her purse and tries to recall the appointments she has scheduled for next week.  Her fuzzy chemobrain has made it impossible for her to remember much these days.  She soon finds herself drawing seagulls and starfish in the margins.  “Oh, to have my toes in the sand right now and to be anywhere other than here,” she dreams.

She shifts gears and makes a list of everything she needs to do when she leaves.  Her 3rd graders — twin boys — will be waiting for her.  It will be dinnertime.

She is mostly alone as she sits in the large open hospital room filled with curtains on tracks and not rods, hospital beds and hospital reclining chairs just like hers.  Mostly alone.  A number of nurses stop over to check on her progress with “the drink” or to ask her to sign a form.  She smiles and makes small talk with each of them.  And then her visitors move on, one by one.  She continues to sip on her unusually large cup of hot tea.  Through a straw.   That’s probably so she doesn’t spill the giant cup of lukewarm possibly radioactive tea on herself.

Her final visitor is dressed in white and bears the name of her long deceased grandmother.  Nancy.  Her Nanna was one of her most favorite people in the world.  She watched her die a painful death from cancer when she was 8 through 9 years old. “My kids are 8, too,” she thinks.

The nurse sets up a tray with everything she needs to access the girl’s port.

She holds a long shiny needle and asks if the girl likes to hold her breath or if she applied the EMLA cream in advance to make it hurt less.

The girl laughs, “No, no need.  Just go ahead.”  She has been poked and cut so many times it’s not even funny.

The needle punctures her upper right chest skin and enters her port.  Now they will be able to push the intravenous radiocontrast agent through her chest.

The nurse dresses her port with a tegaderm and gauze.  With the little yellow butterfly clip sticking against the transparent tegaderm, it almost looks as though the girl has a flower pinned to her chest.  An ugly flower, but a flower nonetheless.

Just as her name is called, she looks at her list.  She is already tired, but smiles at the thought of being able to sit down with her kids when she is done.

She drags her body from the chair to meet the woman who beckoned her.  They walk quietly down the hall together and slip into a room nearby.  The door closes behind them.

When they emerge, they are smiling faint smiles and walking again.  The girl is doing that thing she does — looking dizzy and as though she is going to hit the deck.  She strokes her sore belly.  The nurse asks her to lie down until she feels better and says that people who receive the contrast through their ports need to wait 10 minutes for observation before they can leave anyway.  The nurse brings the girl a drink.  This time it’s plain cola.  Nothing added.  The nurse puts a bendy straw in the Coke.  The straw wrapper bears the name of a famous medical supplier.  “Yikes, a straw from a medical company!  It probably cost $50,” she thinks.

When her 10 minutes is up, she is so ready to leave that she walks out in her disposable drawstring hospital pants and stuffs her slacks in her bag.  It’s time to go home.

———————————–

So I was sitting in one of those recliner-type hospital chairs drinking oral contrast in preparation for my CT scan when I started thinking about perspective.  Of course the “girl” above is me…

Thanks for reading… Your comments and “Likes” brighten my life…