Monday, July 30, 2007

Menopause Chronicles--2nd entry: Red Tides

Then comes another sign. The sign has a color and it is RED, and of course it’s blood. We all have periods, but this is the period from hell. Instead of a normal period, this is MAJOR BLEEDING. A tampon and a maxi pad will not handle the flow. But at first it only lasts one day and then the next month, things are back to normal. There are months with normal flows and then there are months with major flows. Soon, the definition of normal flow changes to mean “major flow.” When did I turn into Mt.Vesuvius? This is not fun. This is when I started wearing so much “undergarment protection” that I walked bowlegged. Sitting down with all the padding was a major feat. Getting up was even more exciting as I had no idea what I was going to find. I discovered that pastel colors are bad and black is good. Back then Depends and its clones did not exist, but if they did, I would have wanted them for periods! I needed whole bottom protection, not just a pad with wings!

I hope it will stop, but it is getting embarrassing. One evening we went to a fancy dinner spot with another couple. I had on a nice dress, a light colored dress, no inkling that a period would come, and I looked good. We made a handsome foursome, without kids! We walked into the restaurant, were seated, ordered wine and appetizers and dinner…then I felt that horrible “leaking” feeling…I waited thinking I really was not feeling anything unusual. It would go away. In the back of my mind, I knew it would not go away, but the evening was going so well, why spoil it? I knew better. Soon, all the denial in the world, could not erase the feeling of sitting in a puddle. I scooched over on my seat in the quiet booth and saw the puddle. The leaking feeling was real. Now what to do? My girlfriend does not have a jacket, nor do I, but my husband does. I asked my husband, the ever sensitive college professor, that I needed to borrow his jacket and go to the restroom. In what seemed like his loudest voice, he said “WHY DO YOU WANT TO DO THAT?” I don’t want everyone to stare at me, so I say “just trust me (I’m a doctor afterall)…let me have your jacket. Gina and I are going to the restroom; we should be back by the time dinner has arrived.” I finally convince him to take off his jacket, I put it around my waist and we try to make a quiet exit to the Ladies. I’ll stop the scenario there. No more explanation is needed. If this has happened to you, you know what I did. If it has not happened to you, I don’t want to put braces on your brains by giving you a solution, as your solution might be so much better than mine was.

At least I had practice at dealing with the situation as this was not the first time it happened. The first time was at a faculty Senate meeting at my University. I was one of about 35 faculty senators. Every other week there was Senate meeting, so I was at that meeting. I was wearing a white suit, this was in the days before I decided that black was good. I had no clue what was going on with my body and my period was not due for another week. The meeting ended and I rose from my chair when the secretary quietly said, “you have a spot on the back of your skirt.” Even though she said this rather quietly, everyone was there and they could see very plainly what she was talking about. I was the only one in the room who had no idea what was going on. I looked back and sure enough, I did. I took off my jacket, put it around my waist and nonchalantly she and I walked to the Ladies for a quick clean-up. Since then, I’m getting good at taking off my jacket and wearing it around my waist. In fact, I started buying a lot of outfits with jackets as they have more than one purpose.

What was happening to my body was a “normal” result of aging. It has the unscientific name of “flooding” and it’s relatively common. A lot of women flood. I don’t remember my mother talking about it, but then she was of a generation that did not talk about anything “personal.” When flooding happens, lots of blood starts to flow. One time I went thru 3 super maxi pads in 20 minutes and then started all over again. I finally learned to go to a public restroom with damp paper towels to clean up the mess. But this was not solving the problem…it was just making clean up a bit easier.

It was time to get some medical attention. I cannot be lecturing and leaking at the same time. I talked to my gynecologist and HE said, it’s nothing to worry about. If it gets bad, then we can do a hysterectomy. That’s when I decided that going to a male gynecologist is like asking a priest for marital advice …neither of them have any direct experience with the issue. What do they know about things that affect women! I found a woman OB/GYN and she said “normal…yes, but there are things we can do about it and hysterectomy is the last resort.” I finally received an answer I could live with. She said that flooding might be the result of fibroids, so I was tested for fibroids.

Have you ever had a vaginal sonogram? Male researchers and doctors must have a sick sense of humor. They think of more fun ways to invade and test a woman’s body in order to discover what is right and wrong about it than any one around. I’m sure they discovered that freezing a speculum before a vaginal exam is a good way to relax a patient? Is there an equivalent “penis-ogram” that works something like a mammogram? Anyway, a vaginal sonogram and a mammogram are in the same camp. The inventors do not know what it feels like to be probed and prodded and poked by cold medical instruments. I mean, have you ever had a warm mammogram when they try to see how skinny they can squish your breasts between two very heavy duty metal plates? Maybe someone likes the idea of boobs under glass…a new medical treat. Anyway, I digress. A vaginal sonogram is simple…a nurse inserts a tube in the vagina and takes a picture of what it finds in the uterus. Sure enough, I had about 10 fibriods that could be seen easily. The largest was 9 centimeters, by 7 centimeters. The smallest was 5 centimeters by 3. That’s another irksome detail. I’m a scientist, but I work in inches, feet and yards, not centimeters. How big is 9 by 7 centimeters? I try to remember my fifth grade lessons on the metric system and I convert that number to roughly 3 ½ inches by 2 ¾ inches. That’s a good sized piece of tumor in there…and there are ten. They are definitely irritants.

After we discovered a mess of fibroids, I asked her if the flooding could be cured? She said, it could be alleviated some, and by the time I was finished with menopause, the fibroids would diminish. She prescribed a medication called Aygestin which I was to take 2 times a day for about 3 months. I did the research, remember I’m a social scientist, so I want to know what is going into my body. I read what the PDR has to say about Aygestin, and decided the side effects are ones I can live with and if means keeping my uterus, I give it a try. Aygestin is a type of progesterone and is used for heavy bleeding. It is not recommended for all women, but after looking at the consequences and (remember this is 20 years ago), after all, it might work. I decided that this might be a good thing for me. I followed the directions, as I was not going to have a hysterectomy, and the flooding stopped. Another hated vaginal sonogram and the fibroids had shrunk. It worked. Aygestin did the trick. The flooding stopped and I stopped taking the medication. The flooding had rare occurances after that, but after about two years of surprises, I was happy to see it was gone. I still had my uterus, and all the wonderful natural hormones that made me the happy person that I sometimes am.

What I did not know then is how common fibroids are in women. At least 1/3 of all women get fibroids, and African American women have more problems with fibroids than any other racial group. They are noncancerous tumors that grow inside the uterus. The good thing, they do shrink after menopause. Until then, they can cause bleeding and discomfort. If they get really big, they can cause frequent urination, constipation and lower back pain. A friend of mine had a 25 pound fibroid. She had lived with it for years until it was causing so much pain, she had it removed. In my case, they just caused heavy bleeding, and no pain. Because I did not have pain, I did not feel a hysterectomy was right for me.
Nowadays, there are more alternatives to treating fibroids. There’s a procedure called “uterine artery embolization” which decreases the blood supply inside the uterus, thereby causing the fibroids to diminish in size. So, if the problem of flooding is due to fibroids, this somewhat noninvasive procedure might take care of the problem. Twenty years ago it did not exist.

While all this is happening, I started to wonder about the etiology of the word “hysterectomy?” It sounded like hysteria and I’m wondered why. Why do women have a hysterectomy and not a uteroectomy or womb-ectomy? Calling a surgical procedure by the name of the organ makes sense. I researched hysteria to see if it is a female problem. Are only women hysterical? I discovered that hysteria is an old medical condition. It’s been around for 2000 years. Sure enough, women became hysterical, men become thoughtful (that male medical profession strikes again). And the source of that hysteria was that uterus. So by removing the source of the hysteria, women would be cured of the problem. However, sometimes whe the uterus is removed, depression results and then the hysteria worsens…and in the old days, there were no modern medical advances to help with depression. Hence hysterectomy was “born” and the name has stuck. Men do not have any conditions that border on a formal title like “hysteria. In fact, if men have their testes removed, it’s called an orchidectomy. Go figure. They get orchids and we get hysteria!

I was two years down the year path to where I am now. I did not know all that was to come, but I did discover that there were no good answers. For every action there was a reaction that was not always better than what I had to begin with. I was beginning to learn to take one day at a time, a tribute to all those AA folks out there, and to enjoy the good days as there were going to be some bad ones along the way.

This is when I decided that I would try to do things with a combination of traditional and herbal medication, and NO SURGERY for as long as I could. I believe that if surgery is not absolutely necessary, then do not have it! For every positive action (surgery) there is an equally negative reaction (pain, unanticipated consequences, etc.) I also started buying larger purses to hold maxi pads, lots of tampons, and baby wipes, dark blue and black suits…and outfits with jackets.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Harry Potter

I've just seen Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix for the 3rd time. As a Harry Potter fan it was necessary to see it on opening day. We tried to make the midnight showing, but I was on the telephone for too long to get to Jackson on time to see the movie. Instead we saw it at 4:30 the next day. We saw it again on Saturday and then today, which is Tuesday. So the movie has been out less than week and I've seen it 3 times. That is a personal record! I like the movie.

I don't want to give away the story any more than if you have not seen HP5, there might be some spoilers in the information below. If you read aware of that!

Order of the Phoenix, the book, is the longest one in the series to date...yet this is the shortest movie. To make the movie so short, a lot of the book is cut out. There are no quidditch scenes, Harry's disasterous date with Cho is gone, Luna's character is not well developed, the rivalry that exists between Slytherin and Griffindor is gone...and the list goes on. So, while the book and movie are different, they start and end at the same place. I believe that this movie is simpler than the other four. There are no subplots, because they have been removed. Umbridge is still Umbridge...and if you disliked her in the book, you will dislike her more in the movie. I'm beginning to like Michael Gambon's portrayal of Dumbledore, but he really cannot replace the first Dumbledore played by Richard Harris. I don't think Michael Gambon shows the same "love" for Harry that Richard Harris showed. He does not have the same sparkle in his eyes...and his wardrobe is far too boring. Richard Harris had several fancy robes while Gambon wears the same blue one all the time.

The characters are growing up. The round faced kid who played the 11 year old Harry Potter has been replaced with an angular teen. Hermione is turning out to be a pretty young woman. Ron is taller and just as ugly as ever. Not only have the kids grown up, you can see the adult characters have aged too since first blush. Vernon has gained a hundred pounds; Lucius Malfoy is not as "slick" looking as he was; and Mr. Weasley looks more tired and weary. It could be just make-up, but it's convincing.

Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint have improved their acting skills, while Emma Watson has not. She does better when she recites a defintion from memory then when she has a conversation with a friend. Toward the end of the movie, she was acting better. Daniel and Rupert were in better form than Emma. All three say that they do not need to work another day as they have made enough money from the HP movies. To that end, I hope the money and fame does not wreck their lives.

I do not know if the movie works as a "stand alone" movie or not. I've read the book and heard the CDs far too many times to know. I do know that the movie does work for me. It's filled with action. It's dark, but not as dark as the book. It sets the stage well for HP 6. I wonder when that will be released. I've read that it is in production and the "kids" have been signed on to star in the last 2 movies.

To that end, Book 7 of the series comes out on the 20th of July. I will be awaiting the book from with mixed emotions. I ordered it the first possible ordering day to be delivered to my house on the 20th. The story and the characters are alive in my head and while I want to find out what happens to story and to them, I am saddened that I will not read another NEW Harry Potter story. The continuing adventures will be missed by me and by a lot of avid fans. To get ready for the new book, I re-listened to HP6. When the book arrives, I'm turning off the phone, disconnecting from the Internet and my husband and I are going to read it to each other until we are too hoarse to talk. We'll go to bed and wake up early the next day and start reading again until we are finished. We read HP6 in a day and half. I wonder how long it will take us to read HP 7?

Menopause Chronicles...first entry

Let me introduce myself. I’m Lee, short for Ileanna Helene Snow. I think my mother named me Ileanna Helene because Snow was such a short, plain, simple, last name. I’ve had to deal with Ileanna all my life. No one knows how to spell it. No one knows what it means, (it means bright and it’s Greek). However, the best way to deal with a weird first name is to adopt a nickname, so I call myself “Lee”…short, sweet and androgynous. As a professional, my secretary can leave a message saying “Dr. Lee Snow has called, please call in the morning,” and let the folks on the other end of the paper trail try to figure out if I’m a woman or man, and if the doctor stands for MD or Ph.D. or something else. This is good.

I’m 60 years old. I’m a working university professor, wife, mother and friend. I’m relatively well traveled, have lived in strange and exotic places and experienced a pretty good life. This book however is only going to take you through the last 15 years of it. It’s a chronicle of what it’s like to survive menopause with most of your family, friends and sanity intact, and maybe even parts of your body. I don’t know if there is a happy ending to this opus, in fact I don’t know what the ending will be like right now. But until then, let me give you some of the detail about what it’s like to go through fifteen years of menopause. Yes, you read that right, 15 long, funny, sad, horrible, happy and freeing years of menopause.

I’m a university professor. It seems like I’ve taught all of my life, but I’ve only been a teacher for 38 years having started when I was 22. I have a good education. My first degree is in History which led to a five years teaching elementary school. That’s where I discovered that kids do not know how to read. It was time to work on an advanced degree in Reading to see if I could help a few kids along the way. I earned my MA knowing more about how kids read, but still seeking more information about how they learn so I could be a more effective teacher.

While all that was happening, I met a college professor who has been the love of my life. After we married, I discovered that I was just as smart as him. If he could get a doctorate, then I could do it to. All I needed was the time to do it. When an opportunity came along, I took it and earned a Ph.D. in Psychology in less than three years.

I have the usual number of children, two, twin boys. Sometimes I feel a bit outnumbered with all that testosterone poisoning in the house. I can usually make my opinion heard, after all I’m vocal, articulate and the MOM. The latter has to account for something.

As a professor and a social scientist, I’ve been curious about how things work. I’ve studied how reading works. I’ve studied how children learn and grow. I’ve studied my own two marvels too. So, it only makes sense that I’ve tried to study how this amazing female body works especially when it’s sell by date has past. That’s why I’m writing this book. To gain a bit more insight into the problem and to convey a message to all women that what you are feeling is probably normal…and some of the time, it sucks. It will be a combination of the true to life stuff that has happened to me as well as the research that says most of this “stuff” is normal. It’s what you can expect if you are somewhere between 40 and 45 and what is going to happen to your body for the next 15 to 20 years. I cannot tell you from personal experience what will happen after that, I’m only 60…there might be a senior citizen chronicle in the future…but first I have to get this one done.

Some of you might wonder about my family. I said I had twins. It was a good way to get two kids for the price of one. I only needed one pregnancy, which was definitely enough to reach my goal. I had the twins soon after we married, so it seems like they have been with us forever.

I’m a working mother, which as someone said, is an oxymoron. What mother isn’t a “working mom?” Because we have had the pleasure of flexible schedules, day care was not an insurmountable problem. We arranged our schedules to meet the schedules of the boys. We also made use of neighbors, friends, relatives and sitters to help us when necessary. All of us have done that. The boys have names, but for the purposes of this book, they are red son and blue son. When they were little it was hard to tell them apart, so I dressed one in red and other in blue. The nicknames just sort of stuck. If someone calls one of them by their real name, I have to think about it…who are they talking about?

My husband has a name too, but this is not a book about men or husbands or sons or brothers or uncles. It’s about women and menopause. So, all the male characters in the book, even though they are as real as can be, have no names…they just have titles such as husband, red son, blue son, brother-in-law, father, etc. You get the idea.

One more thing. I’m one of the early baby boomers, born right after World War II ended. We wanted everything and part of that was birth control, keeping our maiden name, a new house with 2 bathrooms, bedrooms for each of our kids, good education, the works. I don’t know if I “got” everything, but I tried hard to get what I could. Hence, after a jillion years of marriage, I’m still SNOW…I never wanted to take another name, even though I’ve been entitled to use one for more than half of my life. Red son and blue son are perfectly happy about the fact that their mom has a life that does not completely revolve around them. They did have their own bedrooms and they did not have to share the bathroom with their parents.

This chronicle starts when I’m 42. I’m a relatively handsome woman, 5’8” 130 pounds, size 10. My hair is still the original color and my eyes are a clear blue. I’ve been this size and weight since I was 22. I’ve never been on a serious diet. I have 2 children who are well balanced and seem to not have any major traumas in their life. They might even turn out to be productive citizens. At least that is the hope. We’ve done our best to make sure they are started off on the right foot and they have a good education. I’ve just been promoted to full professor. It’s hard to get better than that. Then the tables start to turn.

The first little sign that something is happening is a wrinkle. Actually it’s more like a frown line. I’ve always been a thoughtful individual, some could say worrisome…and I’ve got that little line on my forehead that indicates this. But at 42, I notice that the line does not go away anymore. It’s there to stay. When did it become glued on my forehead? I’ve never worried about frowning in the past…but the line…it’s there. It screams at me every morning when I look in the mirror. I try creams, ointments, lotions and rubbing and the line does not get any better and it won’t go away. It just stays there. I cannot cover the line with hair as then I would not be able to see. What to do? Then the reality sinks in..this is the first of many lines. My face, which my husband describes as cute, not pretty, might be getting some character. I always thought it had character before…does it really need any more? Since the line did not ask me for permission to stay, it stayed all on it’s own, maybe I had better face the fact that I’m not 30 anymore. Darn is one word that comes to mind… Shoot, I’m not as elastic as I was. Gees…Lee…you’re 42, you have a line on your forehead. Wake up and smell the roses girl…you’re getting older.

This sucks!

Home again

Hi folks,
We are home again...back from cruising--it's always good to be home...and it's always good to be gone from home.

The purpose of this blog is share our travels; my favorite books and movies; and to test out chapters from a book that I am writing tentatively called The Menopause Chronicles. Watch the space to see what is happening.

Right now I'm sitting on the back porch of our summer home in western Wyoming. The aspens are beautiful and the air is clear. It's hard to find a prettier, more relaxing spot in North America! I have my family up for the week and things are sweet.

I'll write more later