Tag Archives: UPMC Voice Center

What It’s Like To Love An Alcoholic During A Pandemic.

Alcohol is my mortal enemy. She wears a harlot’s face. She dresses like a skank. And, she waits in the shadows of the country roadside distributors and “buy one, get one free” holiday specials to snatch away hope, impossible promises, everything worth emotional investment. And, during the pandemic she, too, wears a mask.

About 22 years ago, I learned the meaning of isolation. A lifetime of vocal abuse, yelling outside in the ragweed and grass pollen at the high school marching band and generally clamoring over everyone had created a polyp the size of a Champagne grape on my left vocal fold. The surgery itself, an expert excision performed by the robotic arm maneuvered by Dr. Clark Rosen at UPMC Voice Center went without complication; but, the post-op, follow-up patient compliance would prove daunting. I had to remain absolutely silent, for two solid weeks, never so much as clearing my throat lest I destroy the tiny cauterization and blow out my cords — and, then, only permitted to speak for five minutes every hour for two more. My landscape was bleak; I would be in for a very long haul, nearly three months alone and six more under prescribed restriction. Nobody wanted to hang out with somebody who could barely speak.

Given that year of life spent avoiding human interaction, when the coronavirus pandemic descended I was hardly fazed. I had this. Real, fake, or somewhere in between, I knew the drill.

But, for these past nearly four years, I’d been quite accompanied. Either with me on occasion at my house or more frequently at his country idyl twenty some minutes south of our town, my partner — my man — had been ever present. Our relationship was a challenge; not exactly compatible, we’d thrown ourselves at each other late in life after a 30 year separation caused by the details of what each of us had known life to be in the town of our birth. But, after more time than I’d ever spent with one man, we found ourselves bonded. Many would call it love.

I was addicted to him. And, he was addicted….but, not to me. He couldn’t drive past any sign that flashed BEER without stocking up. And, his patterns were, among those who imbibed, the least healthy; whatever he purchased, he drank — all at once, over a period of just an hour or so. The assault on his body frightened me; but he, muscle bound and head strong, hardly gave it a second thought.

When the word came down that everyone of a certain age should stay home, I looked at him and made the decision for both of us. He would shelter in place, with me — 24/7, for a solid month. This would take him well past day 28, the period of time every addiction therapist believed was required for the body to be cleared of alcohol and all its affects.

And, this appeared to work. We had, by both his account and mine, some of our most joyful time together to date. We rearranged my kitchen to make it companion compatible, my assisting his gourmet meal preparations nearly every night; we walked Bella, the Rotty, under the grand oaks and firs at the nearby cemetery; and, the only binging happening was our umpteen seasons of HOMELAND. During the coronavirus pandemic, no less, I thought we’d achieved what everyone else called happiness.

At the end of the 28 days, he was ready to return home. It was May; there was garden soil to turn, and a cage to pullet, and the spring lawn to mow. And, he said, he had to “test” whether he could sustain his now streamlined figure and newfound mental clarity alone.

Of course, my addiction dictated what happened next. I’d be monitoring his every going and coming, texting and calling – urging him to wear the n95 mask I’d given him from my tool drawer, reminding him to wash all packaging upon returning from the store. Wondering, alone at home, if he’d slipped. Agonizing over whether this 65 year old, sleep deprived, retired nurse in a compromised physical condition was watching the news and realizing how lucid he’d have to be, daily.

Tomorrow is Labor Day. We’d endured nearly six months. Tonight, after a major row about nothing, a two for one sixpack binge the night before, and another canceled plan to be with me for a Sunday, I drove out yet again to get my things. This time, I walked out onto the back stoop, searching for a place to toss the three empties instead of smashing them on the pavement.

And, there it was. A black mask just like his, neatly folded on the landing.

I didn’t remember whether he’d said he had one, or two. I only knew that he wasn’t home, he always kept his in the truck, and this mask sat, folded, on his cement step. Not even an alcoholic in a boozy haze goes outside to stand on his own backyard stoop with his mask still on his face, only to remove it, fold it, and set it down. This one had been on somebody else.

I don’t scream much, anymore. The throat surgeon taught me well. Now, when the overwhelm of grief driven exhaustion descends upon my small bones, I just increase my step and hasten my exit stage left. I run, to the car, and tear off in the increasing dusk, my jaw set in the rear view mirror, my eyes aflame.

Being alone has its merits. Solitude can be a gift. Loving someone who loves something else more than you eats your soul from the inside out. This pandemic had better end. I have better love to give, all mortal enemies be damned.

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© 9/6/2020 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. Originally published at Medium.com

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How To Grieve During The Holidays — and, Keep Your Sense of Humor.

R.A.UglySadFace

I used to have a wicked sense of humor.

Meaning: at school, R.A. was the funniest girl in class.

Of course, this was in that archaic phase of history formerly known as “junior high”. And, maybe the cusp of sophomore year. But, details don’t matter. Once life kicked into high gear, the end began.

Yes. Somewhere between the first side impact car accident and the onset of the migraines, something started to chip away at the old edge of wit. Perhaps the newest pain medication, intended to act on serotonin receptors. Whatever. Once I got to college, a secular state university, all my energy was required just to function semi socially and remain a virgin. Well, technically, anyway. While still a sitting infant I’d plopped down, on top of a phallus sized, lead painted steel truck from my elder brother’s collection, and broken my hymen.

But, yeah. Directly proportionate to the degree of accepted responsibilities, any vestige of humor pretty much konked out, was a burgeoning skill as a tedious bore. Add to that a vocal cord surgery, in ’98. Losing my hallmark guffaw was the icing on that cake; I was the most profoundly unfunny person in the world, and couldn’t even laugh about it.

By way of outcome, or perhaps some damage to the central amygdala, across the multiple decades hence there emerged one topic about which I could speak as a veritable Rhodes scholar: grief.

It’s true. If any girl knew anything about sobbing her way through a workshop on teaching the gifted, it was I. Even attending a lecture presented for local women and hearing Nelson Mandela’s absolution on letting your light shine, I cried like a blubbering baby.  As for the dark of pre-menstrual night, and that old familiar fetal position, there would be me, screaming into the pillow like nobody’s mama.

Interestingly, grief being directly the result of loss, I seemed to have cornered the market on losing loved ones. Whether grandparents, parents, relatives, or significant others, I had spent more on funeral arrangements in the course of the gift giving budget than anything else. Add to that far too many failed attempts at intimate relationship and you had Doctor Ruth, minus the short legs and the cheery grin.

Now, as self appointed spokeswoman for the wisdom of aging, I come to you on the better side of post menopause with a seasoned appreciation for synthesis. Perhaps the out of pocket orthodontia to cure tempo-mandibular joint dysfunction gets the prize, because the migraines have significantly ceased and, with them, the need for brain chemistry altering medication. If there is anything to be gleaned from it all I now offer the following: grieving — with a sense of humor.

Herewith a list of tips. (And, no. Mind altering substance ingestion is not required.)

1.) CATASTROPHE.

As we all know, the state of the planet and the world upon it hanging on for dear life, we don’t have to look very far to find the latest disaster during the holidays. In fact, sudden horrific events seem to emerge out of nowhere just as the malls open for business. And, even if we’ve had to say goodbye to the one person we were sure would be holding our hand when we croaked, there is nothing quite like a tsunami on the Pacific rim to jolt us back into relative reality.

I recommend finding the channel which covers the latest world news, and scrolling til we find something geographic. There is a surreal comfort in gaping at massive destruction, particularly if we find ourselves a.) reasonably clothed; b.) sufficiently nourished, and c.) able to adjust the internal temperature of the room to our liking. Allowing ourselves to sit quietly and attune, as the warm surge of relief that none of what we are witnessing is actually happening in any remote proximity, can resemble momentary bliss. It can also gently nudge our better angels to remind us that we could count our blessings.

2.) CHARITY.

Speaking of taking a tally, even if we retired way too early to collect enough to pull us out of a declining demographic, sending twenty bucks to help victimized children does wonders for the dopamine. Contributing to these, as well as those who manage to survive catastrophe, is the most guilt free (and, grief releasing) pleasure on earth. We can do so joyfully, with absolutely no concern for subliminal self righteousness, which can lead to self loathing which, in turn, can frequently cause us to dial a friend and vent. Venting on friends, during the holidays, is the perfect way to get crossed off the last party list that held out hope for the most wretched among us.

But, be cautious; if we do send money, be sure that we have decided with certainty that we hate holiday parties. Sometimes the cascade of cause and effect is too powerful to quell and actually accepting that the phone won’t chime an invitation, at all, must be adequately addressed and confronted with a mature resignation.

3.) GORGING.

Everybody drowns their sorrows in consumables. I suspect that appetite is triggered by a gaping sense of loss.

That said, congratulating ourselves for being sufficiently devastated, we can set about the table before us with any number of syrupy, savory, and textured delectables knowing that – now that we are utterly alone in the world – we don’t have to share them with anybody.

However, keeping various protein sources at arm’s reach is strongly suggested. Every twenty minutes, as the eyelids begin to flutter, stuffing a block of cheese into the face will cut that glycemic rise, effectively preventing ten minutes of sudden coma. During grief, every ten minutes missed is ten minutes lost. And, we all know that the objective is to indulge, for as long as we can remain coherent and capable of sudden wailing and gnashing of teeth. Keeping a glucose monitor handy is also prudent.

4.) PUBLIC DISPLAYS.

Five days ago, I had to endure the excruciating extraction of my entire self from an environment into which I had voluntarily placed myself for twenty months. Granted, the psychic abuse of living in suspended disbelief, instead of squarely facing that hope for a future of committed mutual trust was likely a serious joke, had been preferable for a remarkably protracted period of time. Denial is the pablum of the pathetic.

Since then, to my personal chagrin, I have dissolved into tears in two, distinct Post Office service lines. Completely uncontrollable sniffling and face wiping, with the back of a fading red glove. And, this year, I cannot even blame a single hormone for the rush; all mine are externally introduced, on call or in the stickered ziploc.

The woman with the most empathic reaction actually allowed me back into my queue, after a failed attempt to help another customer carry her packaged burden to her car. The man in the next line who spoke the most encouraging words to me was none other than the service department manager at the car dealership where I’d purchased my Pontiac, with the lemon engine, whose six or seven gaskets had been replaced and for which I had successfully sued GM for five grand.

No. We truly cannot make these things up. Reality really is stranger than fiction. For this cause, I highly recommend that the grieving take it to the streets. Cry, out loud, whenever and wherever we go. Displaying raw, authentic emotion will spur the most outrageous outpouring of human altruism most never knew they possessed, including being reminded that crying is good because it detoxifies the body. A room full of weeping people could ensue. This would provoke entire gaggles of clasping hugs, grinding all commerce to a dead halt and shutting down the economy. Cars would remain parked, people choosing to walk, arm in arm, forsaking their petty materialisms and inviting one another in for a hot meal and some group singing around the piano, revolutionizing society for an entire generation.

So, throw back your head. Squeeze your wet eyelids til they squint out the last tear. Tomorrow will never come. Instead, you will wake up from your sleep, when your body is finally done resting, and your today will be waiting right where you left off.

Isn’t it funny how that works?

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© 11/27/18  Ruth Ann Scanzillo. Thank you for respecting the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line.  Try not to laugh.

littlebarefeetblog.com