An update…

I’ve been quiet again lately. It’s largely been with good reason. Well, it’s a bad reason but a good excuse.

In my last post, I mentioned that I hadn’t been feeling well and had gone to the doctor. At that appointment, my doctor posited a few possible reasons and she ordered a bunch of tests, including an abdominal CT scan which I had a few days later. The following Monday evening, I found myself in the emergency room and subsequently admitted to the hospital. The CT scan seemed to indicate a tubo-ovarian abscess – basically, an abscess on my fallopian tube or ovary – and if that was the case, it could rupture with possibly dangerous implications. Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it – it wasn’t that. But I’ll get to that…

(As an aside, I learned that Monday is apparently the worst day to visit the emergency room. So, if you are going to get sick or injured, try to avoid Mondays.)

Around 11pm, after a roughly 5 hour wait, I finally got taken in to to an exam room in the ER. I would be there for almost 4 hours before being admitted to the hospital. Around 1am, I was wheeled off for an ultrasound, including one that was quite, ummm, intrusive. Around 3am, a gynecologist came by for further examinations (again, quite intrusive, this time with a med student observing). Based on her exam and the preliminary ultrasound reading, she felt I was not dealing with an abscess but likely something else.

I was admitted to the hospital that night and would ultimately spend 3 nights. Over the next couple days, I was visited by multiple doctors, including a gastroenterologist and a colorectal surgeon, in addition to the general hospitalist. I also was subjected to a battery of tests, including an abdominal MRI (which required me to drink a large quantity of a sickly sweet fluid) and a colonoscopy (which required drinking a lot of a very nasty liquid).

Ultimately, it turned out that my Crohn’s disease was active and I had significant intestinal inflammation (so severe the doctor couldn’t complete the colonoscopy). The doctor thinks my Crohn’s has been active for quite some time and that I had just grown used to living with the discomfort. Exacerbating it was a large ovarian cyst, which explains the image on the original CT scan. There also appeared to be some infection, indicated by the fevers I kept spiking. I was given IV antibiotics in the hospital and eventually sent home with two weeks worth of hard core antibiotics that left me feeling even sicker.

I spent the next few days at home, doing little more than sleeping. I suppose it didn’t help that I hadn’t had caffeine the whole time I was in the hospital, so I was probably experiencing a little bit of withdrawal. (I have now been basically caffeine free for over a month, only drinking a small cup of coffee on a couple of very early mornings. Surprisingly, I generally have had more energy than I remember having in a long time, and no afternoon crash.)

I am now feeling more or less back to normal. In fact, I feel better than I have in a long time. But the Crohn’s is still active and, as the gastroenterologist now treating me keeps reminding whenever I say I’m feeling pretty good, I’m going to have to treat it. That means IV infusions of a biologic medication for the foreseeable future. The cyst, at least, was expected to resolve itself within a couple of menstrual cycles (estimated around 6 weeks) and the pain/discomfort on that side of my abdomen has definitely subsided, so I suspect it has at least shrunk. I have an ultrasound scheduled just after Thanksgiving to see how things look and then the doctors can figure out how best to move forward.

For now, I’m in Churchill, Manitoba looking for polar bears. A month ago, I was worried I might have to cancel this trip. So, hey, it could be worse…

Things happen for a reason…

… and, in the same way, it seems people come into your life for a reason.

I mentioned in a couple prior posts about how my recent foray into dating didn’t work out and how the person was randomly on my mind recently. I think I now have a better sense for why the universe brought them into my life.

I have never been good about keeping up with medical appointments, including routine physicals. I was only about 4 months behind on that, but a few years behind on some other routine screenings. I have a pre-existing condition that makes one of those routine screenings particularly important and, at present, I appear to be having some issues related to it.

During a text conversation this person mentioned their own upcoming physical. At that moment, I was sitting at my desk, my computer and phone conveniently beside me, and nothing but our conversation distracting me at that moment (there was a contract I was taking a quick break from, but I digress). Without a second thought, I scheduled my overdue annual physical (for the very next week). Had that conversation happened at any other time, I would have made a mental note to schedule the appointment and then forgotten as work, school, or other distractions took priority.

Typical of such exams, my doctor scheduled a slew of tests. She also referred me to several specialists for additional testing. The results started coming in and there were a bunch of minor abnormalities, but the doctor felt most were not of concern. But last week, a different test came back with more concerning abnormalities. I have been awaiting additional results related to the issue, which finally came in yesterday. Fortunately, the remaining tests were normal, taking a huge weight off my shoulders. But it is a situation that will now require monitoring and more diligence in my personal health care.

Which brings me back to my initial point. I believe this person came into my life at this particular time for a reason. While I very much hoped we could remain friends when the dating relationship didn’t work out, I am grateful to them. They helped me refocus some of my personal priorities. But, more importantly, if not for that conversation at that particular moment in time, I would not have made that doctor’s appointment and would not have finally scheduled the other screenings. It remains to be seen what, if anything, comes of those appointments, but I will at least finally have them. And for that, I owe this person a debt of gratitude.

And so it begins again…

School, that is…

Today was the official start of the fall semester for my final year of my LLM program. I am finding it a little challenging to get back into study mode, but I suppose that is typical for me. I do have excuses I could make (I haven’t been feeling well the last couple days and Saturday did start with a memorial service), but it is pretty typical for me to procrastinate. In fact, I am doing so right now…

This semester’s class is Corporate Compliance: Law and Ethics. It struck me as something particularly useful for a corporate counsel in this day and age, even if my employer is not international. The course was probably not the most useful toward my dissertation, but I found its case-study approach to be interesting. This week, Enron and Wells Fargo are included in the reading so…

Truth be told I’m looking forward to writing my dissertation over the summer (at least at this moment – I’m sure I’ll burn out again before that), because that will be a chance to do some substantive research on an IP and/or tech law topic of personal interest.  I still don’t fully understand the process for submitting and getting approval of my proposed topics, but that process doesn’t start for a few months. Suffice it to say, I already have an overly-long list of topics I will need to narrow down.

As a random aside – have you ever met someone who you just feel so comfortable with, who you can talk with about nearly anything at anytime and just feel comfortable being open about things? I don’t make “real” friends very easily and it is so rare for me to find someone like that.  When someone like that comes into my life, their subsequent absence is noticeable. Today was one of those days, where my momentary instinct was to text that person about something that happened. I didn’t/couldn’t, of course. But the instinct apparently still lingers.

Live for today because tomorrow isn’t promised…

I spent Saturday morning at a thought-provoking and moving memorial/celebration of life for a colleague’s wife who died far too young (less than 3 years older than me). These types of things inevitably make you think about your own life and this was no different. There were anecdotes and messages shared in this service that resonated about my own life and I hope they will stick with me

First, a slight aside – at the service, I ran into several people who I hadn’t seen in several years (some I do see on Facebook, at least).  I commented to one that it always seems to be funerals/memorials that reconnect people. The same was true for my family – it was at a memorial service a few years ago (it must have been about 4 years, since it was just before my divorce) that the family gathered and I saw extended relatives who I hadn’t seen since I was much younger. Why is it we only seem to gather in our times of grief? I admit, I am terrible about maintaining contact with people on a regular basis. I get busy – we all do. And I tend to be an introvert, so social situations have a tendency to drain me. But there is something to be said for maintaining contact. I said to one person that maybe it is time for us to gather a group of us for lunch. I am resolving to put that into action, even if just that one lunch.

A second aside – another message I took away from the service had to do with how we treat our fellow humans. Speakers at the service spoke of community, of getting involved, of finding mentees. As a natural introvert, these things are very difficult for me. But I do try to do what I can to help others.

But I digress…

I have lost too many friends and colleagues over the last few years, most before their time. I discussed their impact a little in a prior post, and this service  (for the person whose death I learned of while high on a mountain) reiterated the messages I had taken from those prior deaths.  I realized that I need to remember to live in the present, to appreciate the life I’m living and to not focus too much on a future that is never guaranteed.

That’s not to say I have given up considering my future. I have spent the last 18+ years ensuring my future was secure, very often at the expense of the present. I have worked for a salary that is significantly below market because, from a long-term perspective, it provides a pension and, in the short-term, it provides other benefits that are above-market. But I have never been able to have anything close to the lifestyle I envisioned when I went to an expensive, highly-ranked private law school. I certainly didn’t expect to still be paying off my student loans (which I still will be doing for years to come).

Over the last few years, I have started to make a greater effort to stop putting things off until “someday” because that “someday” is never promised. The future plans I have worked so hard for whether my pension or my plans to do certain things when I retire – can all evaporate in a moment.

The truth is, I will have absolutely no regrets if something happens to me and my student loans are never fully repaid. But I would regret if I never saw the Northern Lights or Michelangelo’s David or the Roman Colosseum or the canals of Venice.  I have a long bucket list, especially where travel is concerned.

I am no longer waiting for someday. Someday is today.

Reflections on life

Life is interesting… and too damn short.

When I wrote most of this post I was off the grid on an Eastern Sierra trip. I had started writing on day 4 of the trip. On day 5, I had a cell signal for a short time and got word of the deaths of a colleague’s wife – someone about my age – and another colleague’s husband. I was standing on a mountaintop with a vast panorama all around me, when the news came through.

If you are going to learn of someone’s death, I suppose there are worse places to be than surrounded by nature. At over 9,000 feet, surrounded by ancient mountains and trees, the insignificance of our individual lives in the scheme of the universe is pretty apparent.* But our lives are significant to us and those we encounter – some even for just a moment. Even on this trip, I encountered people whose memory will stay with me.

I have had many friends and colleagues die over the last few years – almost all of them dying young by most standards – and those deaths have had a profound impact on me. Some helped pull me out of my post-divorce depression and led me to focus more on me. And they led me to realize I needed to spend more time living in the present, rather than just focusing on my future. I started checking things off my bucket lists and decided to go back to school with certain goals in mind.  And this moment was no different – at another turning point in my life, it made me stop and think.

My friend and I stayed in Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park’s high country. We drove separately (for logistical reasons), which had the pleasant side benefit of giving me plenty of “me” time and space. It was time when I was free to go at my own pace and do whatever I felt. I could crank up my eclectic iTunes playlist and just drive. My time was mine, with no one to answer to (although I enjoyed texting with someone when I would stop for a break).

The last time I was in Tuolumne Meadows (a decade ago), I was one day removed from a breakup that hit me hard. Hindsight being 20/20, it probably shouldn’t have impacted me that significantly. But I was blindsided and my heart recklessly opens itself too wide to people. He would later tell me that he chose the timing because he knew I was going on vacation and he thought I would be able to take my mind off things. But that’s the thing up here – it’s pretty off the grid and it’s really easy to get lost in your thoughts. My memories of that trip aren’t great. I was absolutely miserable and I regret that I made things unpleasant for my aunt (who I was traveling with) because I was in a funk and pretty unmotivated to do anything. And dining in Tuolumne is at communal tables, so I’m sure there are others who were impacted by my mood.

This trip was better for me, albeit very different. Things happened, as if the universe was sending a sign that things in my life are moving in the right direction, tho now I have had to reconsider the meaning I imputed to them. There were dragonflies, in particular, and a butterfly that came out of nowhere and landed near me for a moment before flitting away. Both have long symbolic histories across cultures – the dragonfly of courage, strength, and happiness and the butterfly of transformation and change. I took them as signs of what was, but perhaps they were actually harbingers of what was to come.

The first afternoon in Tuolumne, I was along the river bank with not another person around. As I turned to go back up the bank, I caught sight of a mother deer and her fawn, grazing less than 50 feet away. She looked up and saw me, we shared a momentary acknowledgment as if she recognized I wasn’t a threat, then she went back to what she was doing. I didn’t have time to pull out my longer zoom, so I zoomed my lens to it’s max and shot a few photos. Then they moved on out of sight.

I climbed back up the bank, crossed the bridge, and started up the trail when I saw the deer cross the river and then cross the trail in front of me, just as close. There was still not another human around. I fired off a series of photos as the pair crossed the trail and then went off out of sight.

Maybe it’s a little cheesy, but I felt that moment was special. It was something all mine – just me and the deer – with not a single other person having shared it. It felt like it was a message, of sorts, from the universe. The deer is seen as a messenger and a symbol of  harmony, happiness, peace and longevity, particularly in Buddhist tradition, and it felt like a message.

But, while the message was mine alone, I had a feeling that I actually wanted to share it with someone – not a stranger, not my friend, but a partner. I’ve had those feelings with increasing frequency and intensity, especially in my travels. Perhaps therein lied the message?

I enjoy being single, particularly the freedom it affords. But, sometimes I do find myself missing having someone in my life, like in moments such as the one down by the river. I thought these were signs that maybe the timing was right to find someone. I thought it could be a sign that maybe I was on the right track with the person I was texting during my trip.

But my first foray back into dating convinces me otherwise – that maybe the timing isn’t right and that I still need to focus more on myself. As I mentioned, my heart is reckless –  I wear it on my sleeve and it opens itself too widely, even when my brain screams for restraint. Whatever the relationship – whether trusted colleague, friend, or a possible romance – once I let my outer barriers down for someone, my heart takes that as an invitation to fully welcome and embrace them. I don’t trust easily, but when I do it is with little reservation. For this reason, I maintain few truly close friendships. I also don’t date much and I try to maintain some emotional distance for as long as possible when I do. But I slipped this time and found in someone a degree of familiarity and comfort that caused me to let my guard down early. My reckless heart took the opportunity to run amok as my logical brain made a futile effort to restrain it. As is typically the case my heart found itself battered and bruised from its escapade, with many wounds it might have avoided had my brain prevailed.

Which brings me back to my earlier comment – life is interesting and short. There was a time when I thought I had my future planned out, with certain goals and even plans for the future. But planning rarely leads where you think it will. I spent 3 years planning around a single goal, only to have someone else’s actions destroy everything I had been working toward. Ultimately, interests change, opportunities change, people come in and out of your life.

Maybe my future won’t be what I “planned” but I’ll roll with it and embrace it because life is short and we need to make the most of the time we have.

 

* A couple of my tattoos reflect this concept, one in particular. On one shoulder I have a dragonfly surrounded by fallen cherry blossoms, being carried by the flowing water. In Japanese literature, cherry blossoms reflect the impermanence of life and beauty – the blossoms are beautiful in bloom, but they only last a few days until they fall. The dragonfly is symbolic of courage, strength, and happiness. On the other shoulder, I have a frog – symbolic of returns – and maple leaves, another symbol of time passing.

Bucket lists (travel)

Eight days ago, I returned from a trip to Iceland where I checked some boxes off my travel bucket list. Chief among those was a chance to see the northern lights / aurora borealis (they were oddly underwhelming in person – they looked more like thin, barely visible clouds than the bright green you see in photos – until I looked at my photos and realized I got some good ones).

The other day, I was thinking about bucket lists and, for a short moment, I thought I had put a serious dent in my bucket list over the last three years – Yellowstone, Rome, Venice, Pompeii, Florence, Iceland, the aurora… Why the sudden burst of travel? After my divorce, and after a few friends died too young, I realized I needed to do a little more to enjoy life today and to do things for myself.

I have been at my current job for over 17 years and have been working at a below-market salary (for many years it was quite significantly below market) for all those years. I have been doing that, in part, with an eye toward my future in the form of a fairly generous (particularly by today’s standards) pension and also toward the present in the form of above-market benefits. Among those benefits is very robust vacation accrual, which I rarely took in my first 10 years.

My future was accounted for, but what was I doing in the present? In 2010, I started taking advantage of my vacation time, with a 2-1/2 week trip to Japan, a place that feels like a second home to me. My next trip was 2011, to see the Kings open the season in Berlin and then to travel around France with a friend. And it was around that time that I met my now-ex, who lives in Stockholm (yes, Sweden).  For the next 3 years, my vacation time was spent almost exclusively visiting my ex or spending time with my ex here in LA. But that was okay, because I was planning a life with this person – a life that would eventually be based in Europe where, I thought, I’d be close enough to many of the places I hoped to see someday. Plus, my ex and I had some of the same places on our bucket lists and had planned to visit them some day, as well. I figured I had plenty of time to whittle down my list. But then my marriage ended and, with it, so did those plans for the future.

About a year and half later, an opportunity presented itself in the form of a conference in Rome. I had the chance to both check Rome (and a few other cities) off my bucket list and to learn something. So I took it. And I realized around that time that I could make my own opportunities. And when some friends passed away suddenly, I realized life was short. I had been working hard to ensure my future, but I needed to start considering the present. So I started checking places and travel experiences off my bucket list.

But was I really just down to just two more, one of which I anticipate knocking out next year, after just a few years of travel? As I started talking about travel I realized there were so many other places and experiences still on that list.

Among the remaining bucket list items:

  • Cambodia and the Angkor temples
  • The Galapagos Islands
  • The ancient ruins in Greece
  • Israel (with a detour to Petra, Jordan)
  • A safari in Africa
  • The Scottish Highlands
  • Stonehenge (yes, I know it’s underwhelming), Bath and other sites in England
  • Castles throughout Europe
  • The rain forests in Costa Rica
  • Snow monkeys in Japan and the Sapporo Snow Festival
  • The pyramids and Sphinx in Egypt
  • Iguazu Falls
  • Auschwitz (not so much a bucket list item as something I feel I need to see in my lifetime)
  • The national parks and national monuments in Utah

I am sure there are others and new ones will replace the ones I check off. But it looks like I have some busy years of travel still ahead…

 

 

Be good to each other

This afternoon, I had one of those reminders about life.

As I was leaving the sushi restaurant where I had lunch, a guy coming out of the 7-11 next door said hi and exchanged a little small talk. I got the sense from his demeanor that he was having a rough go of it, but he didn’t ask for money. A guy came out of the 7-11 and he asked him “can you share some change, my man?” The guy never even acknowledged him and kept walking. I asked “can  you use a few dollars?” He very humbly acknowledged that he did but said he didn’t want to ask me.

I gave him the few singles I had in my wallet and he was humbly grateful for the little gesture. As I was about to walk away, I stopped and turned back. “I don’t have much cash, but do you want something to eat? I can put it on a card.” His eyes lit up and he asked for some chips or something like that. I was about to go inside 7-11 when the McDonald’s next door caught my eye. I offered to walk over with him and buy him an actual meal. He was taken aback and gratefully accepted.

“I just have to get my phone inside,” he said. He then quickly added “it’s an Obama phone, it’s free.” I told him I didn’t really care – someone with a brand new iPhone could have been struck by a tragedy and found themselves having fallen on hard times. He explained that when people see the phone (it looks like a smartphone but it has very limited features), they sometimes respond “you have a phone.” Huh?  “You can’t eat an iPhone,” I said.

As we walked over to McDonald’s we talked about how we all should have a little kindness, especially in our current political climate where the ruling party would like public assistance to go the way of the dinosaurs (you know, those giant lizards that kids used to keep as pets a few thousand years ago). He excitedly said he was going to order a Big Mac value meal, that he hadn’t had a Big Mac in a while. I had just spent $35 on sushi and here was someone who was excited and grateful to be having a Big Mac.

He told me his name was David and that he was struggling to get by. He lost his job and that meant he couldn’t pay his rent. He went through a divorce. Family who he had helped in the past weren’t there for him when he fell on hard times. He was working temp jobs and doing his best to get by while he tried to find a job. But it was a struggle.

He ordered the large Big Mac value meal and I told him to add a dessert or something if he wanted it (how can you pass up those pies?).  I paid for his meal and said my goodbyes – I asked him to pay the kindness forward to someone else once he gets back on his feet – and rushed off to my car before my meter expired.

It isn’t the first time I’ve bought someone lunch at that McDonald’s, nor even the second. I’ve been struck by the gratitude each time I’ve done it – no one has ever declined saying they just want money or taken the gesture for granted (well, one person sort of did – it turned out she wasn’t alone and her friend was hungry too). Maybe it’s something about that store? I spent less than a third of what I just spent on my lunch (and little more than the cost of the indulgent Unicorn Frappuccino I haven’t had a chance to try) but to him it meant a  lot.

Many of us live just one unfortunate incident away from finding ourselves in similar situation – a lost job, an accident, an illness, divorce, a family tragedy.  In this climate, with an administration that would gladly cut the supports of what is left of our social safety net, it’s sometimes worth stepping back and contemplating.