Saturday, December 12, 2009

When I was in college, living in Bellingham, I drifted a lot: boyfriends, jobs, cars, friends. I spent most of my twenties searching for home without realizing it. One of my few constants was The Squirrels.

At first, my love for them was just a byproduct of my love for the Young Fresh Fellows. I had been listening to the Fellows since I copied a cassette tape from a friend in 10th grade, memorized it, and idolized them. (I even did a lip-synch to "Searchin' USA" for drama class my senior year.) Some of the Fellows had a little side project with this guy Rob Morgan, and Rob eventually got his own backing band and became The Squirrels.

Living in Bellingham in the 90s was a lifestyle choice. Seattle was the logical stepping stone after you enjoyed college and finished up your play life in the small town. Bellingham wasn't really small, but it wasn't a big city either. It was the minor leagues to Seattle's big time status, especially after the grunge scene exploded and everybody wanted to move to the musical magical rainyland. Choosing The Ham meant you weren't into "all that" - money, success, prestige. Staying here meant you would always be small-time, and choosing to stay here meant you thumbed your nose at what Seattle represented. You were too cool to act cool, too real to sell out. I didn't want to pay the price of living in a big city: noise, traffic, crowds. And I definitely didn't care about success or money; I was far above all that. Going to Fairhaven College, an alternative slightly-hippie school, only cemented my ideas about life: money = evil, success is of the devil, and all that matters is this moment and being honest about who you are. Moving to Seattle was antithetical to everything I believed. So I stayed in Bellingham, and worshiped my favorite band from afar.

I first saw the Squirrels play at a UW show where they opened for the YFF. The sound at the show was far too loud for me (the bass was up too high), but I loved the theatrical display happening onstage. They had a drummer, guitarist, bass player, keyboard player, lead singer, each in some kind of costume, and a girl in a tight dress playing (seriously) the Slinky, all behind a bubble machine going full blast on the edge of the stage. One of their songs was a riff on the church song, "One in the Spirit." "We are one in the spirit, we are one in the lord," they sang, over and over, ending in, "and we're all coming over to your house for dinner!" I laughed and laughed. They mishmashed songs together in my favorite cover song tradition, playing pop songs until they broke and bending them into new compositions entirely. I loved what they did, and even though I got a migraine that night from the pounding bass, I knew I had found kindred spirits in love of music and mockery.

For the next 10 years, I went to every Squirrels show I could. I collected their gig posters, I bought their records, I worshiped from afar. I learned every word to every song, and at each gig I couldn't help but sing along. (Their music was usually loud enough that you could hide your voice.) They weren't hugely popular, but the people who loved them adored them. I saw a lot of the same people at every show: leather metal jacket with red hair, he and his buddy would always end up doing that square dance move where you lock your arms and jig in a circle. Sometimes the YFF showed up at the shows, and I knew some faces but never felt cool enough to talk to them.

On weekends, I went to see the Squirrels, and I spent a lot of hours driving the miles from Bellingham to Seattle, in my Ford Escort, my Toyota Celica, my VW Rabbit, my Toyota Tercel, even my mom's minivan once when I got a flat tire just miles from their house. I took Tony, Eric, Peter, Scott, Darrell, Jef, Jay to the shows. I crashed in Seattle with Erica, Sarah, Joy, and sometimes instead of driving all the way home, I stopped in Stanwood and slept on the couch at my folks' place, waking up blearily a few hours later to drive the last 45 miles home, stinking of sweat and secondhand smoke the whole way. When my younger sister visited me for Halloween, the Squirrels played an all-ages show on campus, just up the hill from my place. I took her to her first show, where she got hit on by college students at age 14. They played in Bellingham other times, too, and I got one of my favorite souvenirs (a Cabbage Patch Doll signed by all the members of the band) from a show they played at the 3B. My first real grown-up apartment had a full wall dedicated to my Squirrels memorabilia, and whenever they opened for another band, I broke the Rule of Cool and stood right in front of the stage and absorbed the music, even with no one else standing anywhere near me. They opened for Mojo Nixon at Speedy O'Tubbs once, and I got my friends to play duck duck goose on the empty dance floor as the band played.

Over time, the band started to expect me at their shows. One of their fans started up an email mailing list for fans of the band, and most of the band was included, too. I kept track of them and their shows through my email accounts: through my WWU student account, then hotmail, then gmail. If I didn't have a job or a car, then I missed shows unless I could convince someone else they had to see this band. Most of my friends didn't have the devotion to the Squirrels that I did, and would roll their eyes when I'd rave. Occasionally I'd pay for gas, food, and the show just to get a ride. When I missed a show, I'd read the email accounts of the shows enviously, and reply with my regrets. But most of the time I'd find a way to be there, regardless of sleep missed, secondary cigarette smoke inhaled, miles driven, couches slept on. Until about eight years ago, when I got married.

Though I'm sure he'd be happy to take the blame, I can't say that my husband made me start missing Squirrels shows. Maybe part of it was moving five times in five years. Maybe it was a casualty of going back to school for my MFA degree and spending two weeks in Los Angeles every six months, missing the Annual XXXmas show for three years in a row (heresy in my previous life). But I can definitely say turning 30 caused a severe drop in my energy level, and spending hours driving to a show and losing the next day to recovery was not as appealing as it used to be. I started really loving my sleep time, and I started choosing activities much differently than before. Living in Portland, then Shelton, etc., meant it was a longer trip, and to be honest, we were extremely broke and barely buying food, let alone paying for gas and tickets to shows. Most of the time, we couldn't make it happen, and my practical side knew it, but that other touchy-feely side wanted to go on a murderous rampage. I mean, what kind of a world wouldn't let me go see the Squirrels play? Not. Fair.

In a Norman Rockwell world, this essay would have a cross-stitch sampler on the wall: Growing Up Means Accepting That You Can't Always See The Squirrels Play. Okay, so that's true. But I never thought it would also include the end of The Squirrels. Now after 25 years of entertaining fans and newbies alike, they're giving up the ghost, they're done. Tonight's XXXmas show will be their last. They've threatened this before, and the band has gone through so many lineup changes that their reunion shows can feature more band members in the audience than fans. They've had their ups and downs, but I always thought they'd keep playing. They were one thing that stayed the same for me, for the last 20 years. No matter where they were playing, I'd find the place, walk in the door, and wait, sometimes by myself for hours, just waiting. Then they'd set up, and for those two or three hours they'd play onstage, they were my sanctuary, my home.

My husband and I bought a house last June, and in one of those little ironies that you'd swear someone planned, we moved to our new house on the day of a Squirrels show. After days of planning and stress, and a full day of physically moving everything we own (with help from our friends), there was no possible way I could get to the show that night without passing out or causing injury to myself or others. I was disappointed, but realistic. We love our new home; it's everything we wanted and more, and every day I feel more comfortable here. Over time, I can feel my muscles relax and ease up, muscles I didn't know were tense in the first place. I found a new home; now I can mourn the loss of the old one.

G'bye Squirrels. I'll miss you. You can all come over to my house for dinner, any time.

Friday, August 7, 2009

You spin me right round, unfortunately.

Warning: If you don't want to read about being dizzy or puking, READ NO FURTHER. Just look up labyrinthitis, and you'll know what my last few days have been like.

Wednesday was a pretty normal day. I found the best pizza ever at Pastazza, their Pollo Blanco, which is roasted chicken, roasted garlic, artichoke hearts and white sauce. Yummy! That was the most note-worthy event of my usual go-to-work, come home kinda day.

At 3 a.m. Thursday morning I woke up out of a dream. I remember this dream really well. I was driving my old '76 Dodge Aspen to work, which was on the Fairhaven side of Bellingham for some reason. On the way, I noticed Paul waiting for the bus, and convinced him I could get him to work on time if he rode with me. There were a few other people in the car as well (don't know who). We started off, but I made a wrong turn somewhere, and this wrong turn meant that we would have to go the long way around and we were getting later and later. I could feel Paul's disapproval growing as I drove. (Disapproval from male figures is one of my more obvious buttons.)

I woke up and my first thought was, well, at least that dream wasn't real. Immediately, like someone flicked a switch, the room started spinning around and around, like that Round-up ride at the fair. I had sensed that James was up and wandering around the bathroom and I immediately started screaming at him, "Help me! Help me!", crying and screaming and freaking out. He ran over and I told him to climb on top of me, or I was going to fall off the bed and be flung into space. (Of course, nothing so rational came out of my mouth, and nothing so clean, either.) James, lovely soul, did as he was told, as I was crying desperately. Maybe twenty seconds later, I realized that I was going to be ill. I immediately switched gears: "Get off get off get off!" and ran to the bathroom. I'll try not to overshare, but I was immediately losing everything I had eaten in both directions. Oddly enough, the only thing I threw up was bile. This is significant later, I promise, or I wouldn't even share.

The next 40 minutes, I spent in a cold sweat, on the toilet, afraid to move. Every five minutes or so, I would repeat my first five minutes. Occasionally, I would try to lift my head to look at the clock, and that brought the dizziness back full force. I think I left handprint gouges in the bathroom cabinet next to the toilet from trying to hold onto something that wasn't moving, trying to stop myself from spinning off the face of the planet.

My system finally purged itself, but I kept thinking, "It must be food poisoning. But if it's food poisoning, why won't my body vomit it up so I can feel better?" Whenever I've eaten something bad, I wake up, throw it all up, and then go back to sleep and feel better in the morning. Either my body wouldn't get rid of it for some reason, or something else was wrong, and I didn't know what. A few times, James asked me whether it was something I ate, but the thought of food made me want to hurl again, so I cut that conversation topic down with a quick machete chop. I slowly hunched over and got to my bed, where I lay in the fetal position with my head next to the ever-popular catch bowl. For maybe an hour I dozed in and out like that. Then the room started doing the spinny thing again, and I was back to the bathroom.

This kept going until about 6 am. That's when James called the 24 hour Nurse Care hotline. Of course she wanted to talk to me, and of course she had no sense of humor or really any human feeling. She was reading from her screen and going through the checkboxes. I didn't mind as long as I didn't have to move my head. She asked me a million questions and finally said I should try to keep down clear liquids, little by little, over the next few hours. If that didn't work, or if I got a fever over 100.5, I should call back.

Okay. An itinerary. A list of things to do. These are things I can handle. So I also asked James to call me in sick to my boss and my coworker (in case my boss came in late), and started in on the plan. Again, fetal position = okay, not great, but okay. My muscles were getting a little tired of that same position, but every time I tried to move them, my body said, NO. And when your body says NO in that particular way, kids, you listen, and you listen HARD. So between bouts of my arm falling asleep and trying to give some of my right side muscles some rest, I sipped first from an eyedropper and later from a straw. Little bit of water swallowed - check. Rest. Little bit more water swallowed - check. Rest. I felt so virtuous following my plan, given to me by an authority figure who knew what she was talking about.

Until 10 am, when I tried to roll on my back, which sent the world aspin, and caused me to vomit up all that wonderful water I'd been virtuously sipping, and which represented all of the sustenance I'd been able to ingest since 9 pm the previous night. Not good. I started slipping back into panic mode. James got the nurse line on the phone and again, gotta talk to me. We went through the story, and she seemed most concerned about the vertigo symptoms. So I walked her through it. At the end of the myriad of questions, most of which involved head injuries, allergies and rashes I didn't have, she said, well, I think you'd better go to your nearest urgent care facility. I said, Okay. She said, now, you shouldn't drive yourself, which started me off laughing. My reply was, "well, then I'd just vomit all over the steering wheel, and it'd be all over." She laughed too, and said, "You'd be surprised how many people with vertigo think they can drive themselves to the hospital." That was awesome.

When you can't move your head without spinning, life is planned out in short little spurts of activity. I've experienced this before after drinking too much, but usually I plan my life so that no major activity follows drinking on the itinerary. Maybe you spin for a few moments before you fall asleep, which is next on the list. Getting somewhere is a whole different thing. So we clothed me, while still in the bed. James ran around and got our ids and various things together and in the car. He got dressed himself. He started the car. I then kept my head down and got to my feet. I hugged my plastic bowl to my chest, walked to the door, slipped my feet into my sandals, asked James to fasten them, and walked to the car.

Being in the car wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. I immediately huddled up into my now familiar fetal position, bowl cupped inside my arms. I didn't see much of the drive, and those in the know already know that James is, shall we say, focused intently when he drives, and doesn't put up with meandering in other drivers. I think we passed at least four people on the right in the 15 miles from our exit to the Sunset exit. I think he illegally passed a van that had stopped for no reason on the side streets, too, but honestly, I would not be a good witness. Most of what I saw was the door, sideways.

I also spent the entire time reciting quietly, "The vertigo is just a product of the nausea." This was something that had gotten caught in my head with a little tune to it during one of my bathroom bouts. I was really worried that I was experiencing vertigo, and that this was permanent, and my way of life was over forever. So at some point I figured that my body was making me nauseous, and the best way to do that was to make me dizzy. That meant I was only dizzy because my body needed to get rid of something in my system. Completely wrong, but it helped me to a) think things through, and feel like a rational being instead of an animal and b) sing the tune over and over.

So he parked the car at the Emergency Room. Now I have to walk. This is going to suck. I stood up and the world started spinning again, so I just aimed at the door and lunged. Two doors, for Christ's sake. Then the desk where they ask you questions. I immediately put my head down on the counter, about waist-high, and let James talk to the nice man. The Nice Man asked a few questions, then pulled me aside into triage, where I asked for a bed to lay in the fetal position and answer questions. He said we don't have a bed there, and I apologized and started vomiting again. He tried to hand me the nice blue St. Joseph Hospital-approved plastic vomit bag, but my hands were glued to my pretty plastic bowl, and for the next five minutes I let 'er rip. I really tried answering the Nice Man's questions in between incidents, but whatever was punishing me decided to really let me have it for making it to the hospital. Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Vomit. So the Nice Man asked questions, then when I was done with my bowl, he gripped my arm. I said, "Yep, that happens every time." Because you see, kids, every time I was ill, my entire body broke out in a totally drenching, hot sweat, which made me freeze when it was over. He said to wait here, and I was like, but I planned to rob the register and clear out of here? No. I'll wait. He brought me a wheelchair, which honestly scared the crap out of me. I did not want to get any wheelchair vertigo in the way of my world-encompassing vertigo. (You got your peanut butter in my chocolate, dammit.)

Mr. Nice Man was amazingly smooth with that wheelchair. He had to tell me to put my feet on the pegs, which took a lot of effort for me, but I just watched the floor, hugged my bowl, and was okay for the most part. He brought me to a room where I immediately lay down on the bed. I asked for a pillow, but he had to leave (apparently that day at the hospital was pretty wacky, even at 11 am or so when I was admitted). I lay there, breathing shallowly and feeling like crap. Then James helped me remove my civilian clothes and get into an awesome gown, but if you're planning to go to the hospital any time soon, I really recommend thick wool comfy socks for the ride in. They kept my feet warm the entire stay.

For a while, a parade of people. Nurse Linda, very funny, got all my smart-ass jokes. She did my eye-vee. That hurt a lot. Someone else got me pillows, o happy day, so my chiropractor wouldn't yell at me. By now they made me switch to the barf bags, so I always had one somewhere. They gave me some drugs, I'm pretty sure, for the nausea and the dizziness. Things got a little wacky. I guess my mind figured I was in professional hands and stayed in survival mode.

The doctor came in at some point and was very nice. He asked me all the same kinds of head injury rash and allergy questions and I answered them all wrong. I guess the "haven't been able to keep food down or move my head at all" parts trumped it, though, because he wanted me to have an MRI.

MRI. What a great idea. I mean, okay, fine, it could have been a stroke and you wouldn't want to go fishing off the wrong pier. But let's take this person, objectively. She can't lay on her back without barfing, and now you want her to lie as still as possible on her back in a very very very small room with loud noises blaring at her? Awesome. I had to take out my two high-ear jewerly pieces (thought of Karl's accessories and winced), and take off my glasses. I think that's the last I saw my glasses until the next day.

James has been having trouble with tendonitis and carpal tunnel in his arm lately, and three weeks ago, I finally got him to go to the actual doctor and get a referral to a good physical therapist. Of course his first PT appointment is scheduled for 2 pm today. ARGH. I told him to get the hell to his appointment. It took me long enough to get him to admit there was a problem, and longer still for him to admit someone could possibly help him. With the MRI approaching, there was nothing for him to do but sit around, so hey, go to your appointment or else. So now I was abandoned, but I didn't honestly care. I was more concerned about James' arm. At least I was in the hospital. I kept thinking about work, too. We had three exit interviews I was supposed to be helping with. "But Sarah, you're IN THE HOSPITAL." "But what if I shouldn't be in the hospital? What if they think I'm faking this whole thing?" Then I'd move my head two degrees and start barfing again. Yep. I definitely need to be here.

They wheeled my whole bed down to the MRI place. By now I was pretty darn groggy and I couldn't see anything. I figured my gown was tied shut and I had a blanket on, so if I didn't look anyone in the face, they wouldn't be able to see me. Ostrich theory = on. Round and round through the corridors, and now they wanted me to roll onto another cart, which was behind me. I told them bluntly to put it on the other side, and I would scoot over to it in my fetal position. They helpfully complied, and I did too. Then I laid back and the spinning started again. Now, the drugs had seriously kicked in by now, but I do remember asking how long it would take: "45 minutes." And my response: "Seriously?" I asked if they could let me know as they went along how much I had left to go. They said, absolutely, and if I needed to come out to really let them know since they wouldn't be able to see much of me. I said no problem.

A few months ago, my dad told me about his MRI experience. Well, actually, that's not true. My dad told me he would never do another MRI if his life depended on it, and that told me what I needed to know. There are a lot of differences between myself and my dad, but a few things are the same: We hate being out of control of our circumstances, and we don't like confined spaces. (We also love peanut butter and pickle sandwiches, but that's beside the point. How can I be hungry again? Oh yeah, I didn't eat for a zillion hours.) So I knew the MRI would be bad. They didn't let me take my barf bag with me, because let's face it, they strapped me in. Yes, Strapped Me In. I didn't watch any of this, because ye frakkin gods, but I know this: They pulled up the sides of what I was on, they placed some kind of plastic dinner tray over my chest, and they put something over my face like a bubble or something. I had the iv with the fluid bag draining into my arm, and I kind of crossed my arms over my stomach and meditated. Not once did I open my eyes. Not once. As I slid mechanically back into the metabolic chamber (yeah, I know it's not metabolic, but that word just goes with chamber so well), at one point I had to move my arms because the drinks tray hit my elbow in the aisle, like on The Wedding Singer. Let's face it, the input from the outside world was pretty jumbly. Then the really loud noises started. BWA BWA BWA BWA BWA BWA BWA BWA BWWWWWWWRRRRRRRAAAAA. Next note: DER DER DER DER DER DER DER DERWWWWWWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA. I did my best to imitate an out of body experience. I just let it all fade away and breathed really really shallowly.

And apparently I did that too well, because suddenly I'm coming out of the chamber. What's up? They've been monitoring my oxygen level and it's too freakin' low, so they have to stick that stupid tube up my nose to give me oxygen. Okay, okay. How much longer? 30 minutes. I think I said a bad word at that point. So they put me back. After about five minutes in, I realize i'm going to puke. My vertigo's back and it's bad. So I start talking to them. I need to come out now, I need to come out, and after a few of those, I just started kicking my legs really hard. They slowly mechnicalize me back out of the chamber and I grab the barf bag from the faceless nameless person who hands it to me and just start barfing. I said, "Y'know, I think was doing better without the oxygen. I was less conscious, so I didn't want to barf." That's me, just trying to be practical. I can only imagine the looks they exchanged. "No, we need you to have the oxygen." I said, "Okay, well, I'll do the best I can." They put me back in again and this time I made it all the way through.

I don't really remember going from the MRI place to the bedroom. I was put into another bedroom to recuperate, and they gave me more drugs and more drugs. The doctor came in at some point and confirmed I didn't have a stroke and the MRI showed nothing. (I'm totally paying for a copy of my medical records to see that portrait of pain.) So they confirmed it was labyrinthitis, which I was like, what? Just a virus in your inner ear, causing dizziness and nausea. Oh, is that all? Talk about your understated disease.

What it explained was the lack of actual food in my vomit. Just bile 24/7, which makes sense if, in truth, "the nausea is just a product of the vertigo", to turn that catchy little phrase around on itself. An a-ha moment as it were, and I'm not talking cartoon characters and mirrors, either.

James showed up after my MRI and confirmed he did go to his appointment, thank goodness, and that he'd fed the cats and left my glasses at home. D'oh. But it's not like I needed to see anything. He sat in a chair next to me and put his hand on the bed. At this point I must have been okay on my back, because I put my hand on his fingers and this cheered me up enormously.

I woke up and he was gone, but the drugs and the bed were very comfortable. I think I really woke up at 5 am or so. Had to pee, which meant unplugging the iv machine, making sure everything was untangled from everything else, pushing it along the floor...wait a minute. Holy crap! Am I actually standing up? Lo and behold, the angels sang. Make that the dirty faced angels. I couldn't see, I was wearing a hospital gown and wandering down a tiled hallway in my REI wool socks, and I could only find the bathroom by guessing, but I was actually standing up and not feeling like the world was rejecting me and all my works by flinging us off into the sun. Talk about your little things.

After that, with all the iv fluids dripping into me, I repeated that action about every half hour. James showed up and I told him how hungry I was. The nice hospital people brought me breakfast. Of course, it was jello and tea and banana and chicken broth. I ate the banana and the jello first, and then such bliss! the chicken broth. Actual sustenance was awesome. This guy wandered in wearing scrubs and started talking about my case and stuff, and made so many smart-alecky jokes that at one point I turned to James and said, "Are we sure he didn't buy those scrubs at Goodwill and just wander into the hospital to mess with people?" He liked that idea. Anyway, he got the nurses to give me a real breakfast, which was a very small muffin, some cheerios, milk (didn't eat) and orange juice (no thanks, too acidic). Nom, gone. He said they'd release me as soon as the paperwork cleared. Two hours later I made James hunt him down and he released me from the iv (that hurt a lot) and the hospital. We escaped with my bracelet accessories still on, like we were fleeing out the back door. That was about 11 am on Friday, start time in hospital: about 11:30 a.m. on Thursday. 24 hours of fun fun fun.

If one more person asks me why I went to work after that, I'll lose it. Payroll has to be run on Monday, I'm running it, and I knew I had about 6 increases stashed in a place no one would find them if I didn't go in and dig them up. If you don't process 1 increase, you get approximately 10 phone calls and or emails having to explain yourself. Forget it; time to drop in. Plus James had to get my prescriptions filled in case the labyrinthitis recurred, and run a couple of errands. So I had a little time to kill and didn't want to spend it in the car.

An hour and a half later, I was napping in my own bed, in clean sheets with the ability to roll anywhere I wanted to without disturbance. I'm still a little shaky, and I've never been the most balanced individual, physically or mentally, but it's great to be mobile, moderately sane and sort of in control of my life. I'm supposed to rest this weekend. Okay. No problem. I plan to do as much nothing as humanly possible while watching my new dvds and playing with yarn. Of course, they still don't know what caused this, though I may have had a touch of a virus last week without realizing it. I was having "allergies" when other people weren't; maybe that was a flu virus that got into my ears. Who knows? Better now, though they say it can last weeks. So far I'm just a little shaky, but if it recurs, I do have prescription drugs. And my five cats to fetch me things. Time for more sleep. What bliss.