Beauty In Surprising Places

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Neighborhood: Glenview, Oakland                       Image:Zebras Child 2019

I was editing some photos whilst being tied to an IV for one of my immunoglobulin infusions. (For those of you new to Zebra’sChild, I get these infusions once every 3 weeks, and they take the better part of a day. But I am always and forever grateful for blood donors, as the gamma globulin that keeps me alive is ultimately obtained by many many filtrations along the flow chart getting from whole blood down to the isolation of gamma globulin. The infusions are hard on my body, and cause some severe side effects, but luckily over the years since I have been diagnosed (12 years, to be precise), the doctors, nurses and I have figured out some strong pre procedures drugs that keep me relatively comfortable. And with those in my system, I am usually able to doze or sleep for most of the time.)

So. I was editing some photos on my iPad, and one of the nurses walked by. I heard a quick intake of her breath, and then she said, “Oh, that is beautiful!”

“Thank you.”

“What? That’s yours? You took that?????”

“Yes.”

“I didn’t know you were a photographer!”

“Well, I’ve begun to get serious about it again, and now I’m hooked.”

I showed her a couple of my other photos, ending with the one above. Her response was an incredulous “That’s amazing! I never would have thought that an opening to gas lines and some leaves on the sidewalk would even be pretty, let alone beautiful. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t even have noticed. I would not even have thought of looking down. Thank you so much for showing me these.”

And that, right there, probably sums up as neatly as anything, why I take such joy in photography. It gives me a way to notice and zoom in (pun intended) on the everyday beauty of the world. I told her that I couldn’t help but notice things like the gas line and the leaves: the glint of sunlight on the steel gas cover next to the rusty brown of the accumulated leaves in the crack of the sidewalk was captivating. I can’t drive down a street without seeing at least 5 things I wish I could stop and photograph. Very few people even want to walk with me when I am walking the dogs because I keep stopping to take photographs. And it’s almost painful for me to walk by something beautiful without trying to capture the beauty on film. (Well, that shows you my age. I don’t use film of course, but somehow saying “capture the beauty digitally” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.)

For me, being a photographer teaches me how to see beauty, to see the unusual, even to see and empathize with pain. I find it almost impossible not to want to record that. And then I have the opportunity (which of course also involves lots of work) to take the recorded images and try to turn them into works of art. All of which feels like a gift.

 

Appearences Can Be Deceiving

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Image: ZebrasChild

Any guesses as to what this tree is? Or the fruit? No fair if you are a person who knows the name of every flower, bush and tree.

I was taking a picture of this while I was walking the dogs (which is when I take most of my photographs), and a woman walking by asked me if I knew the name of the tree. When I responded that I had no idea, she told me the name and said, “Since you were photographing the tree, I thought you might like to know the name.” She was right, of course, I did want to know the name, especially since I was going to put the photograph in a post.

Ready for the big reveal? It’s an Irish Strawberry tree! (Arbutus unedo, if you’re interested.) And apparently you can actually eat the fruit; you can even find recipes for it online. Who knew that a kind of strawberry grew on trees? And especially looking at this unripe fruit, I never would have guessed what it was in a million years.

Many disabilities or rare medical conditions are like that – you can’t necessarily tell from just looking at a person whether or not they are healthy. A person with a serious heart condition, for instance, might not appear to need additional help opening a heavy door. And in my case, having a Primary Immune Deficiency doesn’t always show, if I’m relatively healthy at the moment. People passing me on the street have no idea that I need IV infusions every three weeks to stay alive. When people do find out that I have CVID, I usually get the reaction, “But you look so healthy!” For a long time, I didn’t know what to say to that other than “Ummmm, well….. actually I’m not.” Which made me feel a little silly, because it didn’t feel like I was adding anything either to the conversation or to their understanding. And giving a scientific explanation of gamma globulin levels, B cells, T cells, number of known genetic mutations, etc, which I love to do, usually has the effect of making people’s eyes glaze over. I usually end up saying, “Well, when I’m not doing well, I don’t come out of the apartment, so you usually only see me when I am doing well.” Which people here in the building usually do understand because there are many people in their 80’s and 90’s living here. And their medical condition is, well, being old.

But life can be extra tricky to navigate when you have been diagnosed with one of the “invisible diseases.” It’s hard to explain why you can’t always come to social functions, or why you need naps during the day and many hours of sleep at night. And it can be awkward to find that you sometimes have to cancel commitments at the last minute.

People often don’t know what to say when you explain that you have a managed, but incurable and life threatening disease. For those of you wondering, the most helpful response is the same as when a friend is going through any other difficult time. A simple, “I’m so sorry that you are living with this. Is there anything I can do to help?” goes a long way toward making us feel seen. Above all, we need to feel like people rather than A Person With A Disease. We have interests, goals, passions for things just like a healthy person. And we are so grateful when you see us for who we are: people. People with special needs, yes. But people. Like you.

Snarls

Snarls © Zebra's Child
Snarls                   © Zebra’s Child

Hi Guys,

I know I haven’t been posting at all regularly, but I still can’t seem to get my pain levels consistently under control. I’ll have a few good-ish days and then, wham! The pain levels go up again. I can function and do what I need to do, which is what keeps me from going into the ER. I reserve that trip for times I truly can’t function. But the pain leaves me with little energy or interest in doing anything extra. I usually love to write, but there seems to be a lot going on that requires planning and decisions, added to tons of medical appointments. We’ve been back from the wonderful visit with one of our daughters, son-in-law, small grandson and very new granddaughter for 11 days, and for the first 8 days I commuted back and forth to Kaiser for five of those days. I say commuted because I have to allow at least an hour of commute time each way.  Sometimes the one way trip takes 30 minutes. Sometimes it takes 2 hours. What can I say? It’s LA. The trip all depends on the time of day, whether there’s been an accident, or there’s road work going on with a lane closed, or sometimes, I don’t know……….. the traffic simply seems to bunch up and then mysteriously clear. The physicists have a name for this phenomenon. I just call it unpleasantness. Luckily, for most of my appointments I need a driver, so I at least have a friend to talk to along the way.

The picture of the tree above looks a lot like part of me feels: caught in a seemingly endless snarl of traffic that is likely to be pretty similar today, tomorrow and the next day as I trace my way back and forth and back and forth to doctor’s appointments and hospital procedures. It also looks like the snarl of pain in my head that makes it difficult to see the green grass and pretty berries among the twisted tree roots. The roots are, after all, just trying to get a hold of a patch of earth that will support and nourish the tree as it tries to grow and even flourish, caught as it is between a sidewalk and a road, without enough real room to spread out. Add to that the fact that it’s watered only on the surface by timed sprinklers, rather than fed long, nourishing drinks of water that would encourage the roots to grow down, rather than sideways. It is doing the best it can, the tree. As are we all.

Infusion After Effects

©Zebra's Child
                                                                                    ©Zebra’s Child

This is a picture of my head at the moment. Flourishing, unfortunately.

Ah, the blessing and curse of gamma globulin infusions. I haven’t been posting as often because I’ve had high pain levels for the last two weeks. Please bear in mind that my body is in pain every hour of every day, and it’s just something I live with. Sort of like living with the tasks of changing diapers or cleaning bathrooms, only worse. It’s been that way for about 30 years. But curling up in a ball and not doing anything on a daily basis is just not an option for me, so I do my best to just get on with the business of living as best I can.

Until I can’t. Which happens sometimes. Sometimes it’s because I’m ill or exhausted or my body isn’t working correctly.  But sometimes it’s because the pain has gotten to the point where I can’t concentrate enough to read or hold a coherent conversation, or even follow the clues in a TV crime drama. Now that’s really sad! Clues laid out so I can figure out who did it, and my brain doesn’t work? Ouch. I love figuring out who did it. (Yes, I am a fan of murder mysteries.)

That was the level of pain after my last infusion. For those of you who have a PID, I know you are familiar with the problem. Gamma Globulin literally keeps us alive, just as much as dialysis keeps a kidney patient alive. But the treatment for many of us comes with some pretty severe side effects. I am given some hard hitting pre-meds before and during my full day IVIG, and I also have a half day infusion the day before specifically to help with the out-of-control headache that the IVIG causes. But sometimes all those pre-meds don’t measure up to the hard hitting torture vice that can take over my head afterwards. My infusion two weeks ago was one of those times.

So. I am better, but but still seem to have been left alone in the dungeon with the inquisitor. He just seems to have dialed the strength down one notch. Or maybe not. At any rate, maybe tomorrow will be better. I hope so.

Turtle Speed

Flowers by the Roadside
Flowers by the Roadside                  ©Zebra’s Child

My body’s progress toward healing and infusion recovery is slow but steady. It’s complicated by the fact that I’m still not sleeping well at night. Don’t know whether it’s the heat or just that I’m unsettled. At any rate, one of my solutions when I don’t feel well is to look for beauty. We had to go out for groceries this afternoon, and I saw these flowers along the way. Capturing them on film definitely lifted my spirits.

Ordinary Beauty

Flowers and Light
                                Flowers and Light          ©Zebra’s Child

I’m still doing not much other than sleeping, which is exactly what my body needs. I can’t always sleep when I most need to because my sleep cycle is one more part of my body that doesn’t always function quite the way it should. So I am extremely grateful that Wednesday/Thursday’s infusions have balanced that out a little and has enabled me to get some much needed rest. Such is the miracle of adequate gamma globulin levels that the bottom of my left foot is already completely healed, and my right foot is doing it’s best to heal as well. This right foot is a little trickier because every time I walk on it the split opens up again, so it’s going to take a little longer. But with the infusion of gamma globulin, I know it will indeed heal with time.

The weather is a little cooler today, which is a welcome relief. The sinking sun this time of day is shining through leaves and flowers, transforming their ordinary beauty into incandescent light. All will be well.

Post Infusions

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A huge thank you to all of you who supported me yesterday during my infusion with your wonderful thoughts and energy and prayers. I am exhausted and have slept a lot today, but my body has begun its healing process.

Much love to you all,
❤ Hannah
🐪🐪🐪🐪

PS: I did ask my nurses for “4 camels to go” as part of the medication order. They told me they were all out of camels at the moment. They were sorry, but they didn’t know when they would be getting a new supply.  In the meantime, they could offer me some juice. Seriously, they did. I told you they had a sense of humor. But judging by the look of this cranky guy, maybe I’m just as happy the camels were out of stock.  :0)