Saturday, December 17, 2011

Pie and the Operating Room

I was just in LA for a medical treatment. Nothing major, just a part of a body part needed to be removed. I wouldn’t normally write about such matters (then again, I write about every other private and personal matter), but pie features prominently so I couldn’t pass up sharing this funny tale of my experience on an operating room table.

I was in the pre-op room, dressed in my cotton hospital gown, when a tall, intelligent looking blond nurse came in to attend to me. Small talk ensued and I happened to ask the nurse, Kate, where she was from.

“Keokuk, Iowa,” she answered.

I bolted upright from my gurney, nearly pulling the IV needle out of my hand. “You’re kidding! I’m from Iowa. I live in Eldon.”

“I’m going to move back someday,” Kate said. “I’m from a family of seven kids and they’re all still in the area. I go back a few times a year. All my friends there think I’m so glamorous because I live in LA – they think of Hollywood – but I try to set them straight and remind them it’s still just me.”

My mom, who accompanied me to my appointment, sat there quietly by my bedside, not saying a word. She has no desire to go back to Iowa. She and my dad moved to LA ten years ago, when three out of five of her kids (including me) were living in LA at the time. She loves living in California, loves the people, the energy, and especially the ocean view from their waterfront apartment.

“I loved living in California and I certainly never thought I would end up in Iowa,” I told Kate. “But I am really happy there.”

“You bake pie?” Kate continued. “I love pie. I went on RAGBRAI this past summer and ate pie every day along the bike route. All those church ladies had made so much pie.”

Angela, the fair-skinned beauty who was smearing a sample of my blood onto a microscope slide interrupted and said, “Excuse me. We need to focus on the surgery.”

“Right,” said Kate. “Okay, please confirm your name, birth date, any allergies….” And then, she couldn’t stop herself. She looked up from my chart and asked, “What kind of pies do you like to make?

“Mostly apple,” I said, sneaking a knowing smile up at Angela who gave up on trying to steer our conversation.

Then my doctor appeared from behind the curtain. Dressed in a flannel shirt and a down jacket, he put his hand on my arm and greeted me warmly. I introduced him to my mom. “Mom, this is Dr. D. I’ve been seeing him for over twenty years. This is the most consistent relationship I’ve ever had in my life. He is the reason I flew half way across the country just to have this procedure done. I wouldn’t trust anyone else.” I added, “One of his many attributes is that he doesn’t buy into drama. You tell him you’re in excruciating pain and he just shrugs. “We were just talking about pie,” I told him.

“Apple is my favorite,” he quickly replied. “The Dutch kind with the crumbly topping. The double crust kind just has too much crust.”

“You like the crumble topping because it’s made with brown sugar and butter,” I told him. “My pie teacher [Mary Spellman] always told me, ‘You can’t go wrong with brown sugar and butter.’”
I was eventually wheeled off to the operating room and the last thing I remember saying to Dr. D as the anesthesia was pumped into my veins was “I’ve never seen you in scrubs.” And then, I was out.

About an hour later I was nudged awake in the middle of having a bad dream about H. (You know something is out of balance in your relationship when your subconscious is trying to work things out under the influence of heavy sedatives!) I noticed I was no longer in the operating room, but in a different room. Dr. D was standing by my bed, once again dressed in his flannel shirt and down jacket. “I was having a bad dream about my boyfriend,” I dumbly said in my groggy state.

“Everything went well. You did great. You can get dressed now. Come back in a few months for a follow up and hopefully one of these days I’ll get to have one of your pies.”
I laid there for a while trying to collect my bearings, observing how my body was feeling – surprising fine, as if it hadn’t just been invaded by scalpels and tubes -- and imagined how the conversation must have gone between the surgical team as they worked on me:

She bakes pies, she lives in Iowa, she has a book coming out in April, I read the opening pages on her website, interesting story, what’s your favorite pie, my grandmother used to make a really good coconut pie that I loved, how’s her blood pressure, I can’t believe she flew all the way here from Iowa, she should open up a pie shop here, LA needs more pie, I’m going to buy her book, almost done here, just one more stitch, I’m going to tell my sister in Keokuk about her, did you know she lives in that Grant Wood house from American Gothic, that’s so Americana, I really like pie.

Of course I’ll never know what they said. But I do know this: everyone, everywhere I go, lights up when you start talking about pie. And there, in a Santa Monica surgery center on Wilshire Boulevard, it was no exception. What better subject to put a patient at ease, what better way to connect with strangers, like with the doctors and nurses into whose hands you are putting your life. It was as if the conversation transformed the cold and sterile room and instead filled it, warmed it with the scent of butter, apples and cinnamon. It proves the point yet again that even when just talking about it and not even eating it, pie comforts, heals and nourishes the soul. Pie connects people and their stories, their histories, their hearts. Even in the most unusual of times and circumstances, like at 6:30 a.m. in an operating room.

Next time I’m in LA I will definitely be returning to the surgery center and am already greatly looking forward to it. Why? Because next time the surgical team won’t be cutting into me, they’ll be cutting into the apple pies I deliver to them as a thank you. I can already imagine the crumble topping melting in their mouths.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

All I Need to Keep Me Warm

My boyfriend left town, but not to worry. I don't need no stinkin' man to keep me warm. How is that, you ask? Because someone else has already moved into the American Gothic House. He's strong, solid, heavy, hardworking and black. And, oh baby, he is hot.

"He" is a Vermont Castings gas stove.
In the same way that Kohler was excited about putting in a new-but-made-to-look-old cast iron apron-front sink in my kitchen, Vermont Castings jumped at the chance to install one of their stoves. And I jumped back because I had been lamenting ever since I moved into the Gothic House a year and a half ago that what this house really needs is a fireplace or a wood burning stove. That's how the house was originally heated, back in 1882, though the chimney has long since been sealed. But hey, I'll take gas. No problem.

One little catch (two if you count having to ask my landlord for permission) is that they had to drill a little hole in the original wood plank floor of the house to run a gas line up from the basement. To watch them removing the inch-wide round plug of wood -- a piece of American history! -- made my hackles go up. They might has well have been using white-out on the Declaration of Independence. Or giving the Statue of Liberty a nose job. (Though as far as I know, both of things might have actually been done.) But once the blue and yellow flames sprung to life and the heat started permeating the drafty old house, I didn't give another thought to tampering with a national historic site.

Vermont Castings sent their Stardance model, the smaller of their vent-free stoves. Short and squatty, black iron with a dull finish, it looks so authentically old it might as well have come straight off the set from "Little House on the Prairie." Except that it's brand new. And it runs on gas. And it heats my house to the point it feels like the tropics. I function best in 80 degree weather.
With my new stove, my fingers don't get cold when I type at my computer for hours on end. And it gets so hot upstairs in my bedroom, I don't miss having a man next to me. (Okay, I admit, that's not completely true.) I've also noticed my two terriers are spending more time in my office with me, taking longer naps. In front of the stove.

Bring on the winter, I say. It may be a long one, but at least it's going to be a cozy one.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tire Tracks in the Snow

NOTE: I posted this story twice and took it down twice. But apparently enough people saw it, liked it and even wanted to forward it to their friends, so due to public pressure popular demand I am posting the story again. Third time's a charm. I would say "Sorry, H," but H has since admitted he was texting other women, so I feel I have the right to post this without apology. It goes to show you, ALWAYS TRUST YOUR INTUITION.

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This is what it looks like when the man you've been dating for the past four months -- and living with for the past three -- abruptly decides to pack up his chow and his guinea pig and leave in the pre-dawn hours of an Iowa winter morning.
As he drives away you stand there in your boots and your bathrobe, sobbing, wondering what it was you did that caused him to go. Was it because you nagged him too much about doing dishes? You admit that you did badger him about this. You also remember that while he first offered to buy you a dishwasher all he managed in the end was to buy paper plates. Or did he leave because you complained about him watching too much TV? You never wanted TV in your house, but in your effort to accommodate this new relationship you relented. You relented so much that when the cable TV you had installed didn't offer his favorite sports channel you upgraded to satellite, complete with that little dish mounted to the roof of your house which now interferes with the  view out your bedroom window. Regardless, you wish every time you look out the window that the damn snow would melt so you don't have to be reminded of how he drove out of your life.
You spend your day so out of sorts you can't get any work done. All you can do is call everyone you know who will remind you that you are fabulous and smart and funny and beautiful. This is helpful because the man who you lived with, the one you had thought had such potential for a future, the one you thought you were falling in love with, the one who drove off at 5:50 a.m. in the snow, had never once told you that you were fabulous, smart, funny and beautiful. You do remember, however, that he called you "cute" exactly three times and how you responded, "Cute is not the same as beautiful."
You just want the day to pass, time to pass, you want the damn snow to melt. You want your heart to feel at peace, you want your stomach to stop feeling so sick and knotted. But especially you want to look at his iPhone again, the one with all those text messages from all those women friends of his, the ones he couldn't bring himself to tell that not only did he have a girlfriend, he was living with her. You're not sure--because you were in such a panicked state for snooping in the first place (something you vowed you would never stoop so low to do)--but you think you saw an exchange of messages that revealed he was rushing back home to meet up with a woman who couldn't wait to see him. If only you could read those messages again you could see you were wrong, that it was nothing of the sort, and put your mind at ease. Still, you will never be sure because he is driving to a place 21 hours away and he is never going to let you see his phone again. Moreover, you have the feeling you are never going to see him again.
Your friends continue to call and email and prop you up and tell you it's for the best that he left, that you rushed into this too fast, that they were never really sure about him anyway.
And though the final outcome has yet to reveal itself, you begin to feel better, more grounded, even a little grateful to have the house to yourself again. You pack up the shampoo bottles he left in the shower and wonder how soon you can cancel the satellite TV. And eventually, thankfully, the snow finally melts.