Picture of self with cane in restroom before medical procedure

Helpful Holiday Hints

by AJ Earl

I think it’s important to have perspective.

For example, I think that we should all take a moment to think about the upcoming holiday break, and whether you celebrate or don’t celebrate the myriad holidays, we are all about to get some well-deserved time off from the books and pdfs, the proofs and the theories, the, well, everything.

I know there are some exceptions, but they, too, deserve some relaxation, and thanks to the very generous calendar, they will also get some time off.

To that end, here are my tips for making your holiday break a really great one:

Read anything that’s outside your academic field: I don’t care if it’s the instructions on the back of a gingerbread house kit, give your brain some time to absorb and integrate your field-specific readings. How many books can you read, anyway? Try this test to find out the possibilities: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/570929/how-many-books-to-read-year-test

Try a new recipe a week: Forget the 30 cookies in 30 days challenge, or anything that requires you to constantly try new things. That’s stressful! This holiday, try 3 or 4 different recipes and spend a week trying to perfect it. Knowing how to make 11 kinds of chocolate chip cookies is great, but why not learn how to cook the perfect Bûche de Noël? https://www.iletaitunefoislapatisserie.com/2016/12/buche-noel-roulee-chocolat-facile-rapide.html

Pamper your pets: If you have any kind of pet, take some time to give them a “me day,” where you treat them with good food, take glamour shots of them, and generally make sure they get the attention they need after a term of you focusing on schoolwork. If you don’t have a pet, the Oregon Humane Society is always looking for volunteers!

Learn your city: Staying in Portland for winter break? Why not hop on a Trimet bus or MAX and ride until you find something interesting? This kind of in-town tourism is helpful, it keeps you busy, and it’s low stress. Have you seen the Paul Bunyan statue?

If anything, this holiday break should provide you with the needed rest you’ve earned from this fall term. If you don’t do anything like the above suggestions, I hope at the very least you can take a seat, relax, and drink a nice cup of cocoa or whatever your favored winter drink is.

Picture of self with cane in restroom before medical procedure

The Cancer Scare

I guess my life is one of those never-ending comedies of error now, each day an echo of the last, a rattling noise that gets louder and louder as we wind back to the day I had my accident. I haven’t kept count, but the frequency with which my health care providers offer me what can be summarized with the template phrase “the ______ scare” has given me little rest these past 11 months.

The first sign of something being wrong was extreme back pain. Imagine getting kicked in the back. Now hold that note for hours at a time. That’s what it was like, a grinding, soul-crunching physically impossible pain that made doing anything that required standing, walking, breathing, eating, drinking, or otherwise being alive extremely difficult.

I went to the ER, got some scans, the scans were abnormal. Aside from tears in my spine, which was now also curved to the left, I had a hiatal hernia, and my gastrointestinal tract just looked wrong. I got blood tests, other tests, and then they took a look inside and got samples. Things kept coming up wrong, inflammatory markers were high, I had an infection, and even more inflammatory markers came out on the high side of abnormal.

“Well, there’s a few things this could be,” my gastroenterologist said to me just before my testing, listing off a few things before saying it. “There’s also a chance it could be cancer.”

So, when my post-consult tests came back abnormal, I held my breath. What if it’s true? What if I had to deal with something I haven’t got the money or time to handle? Was this going to end my school career for a while? Could I die? The latter question was answered when I got notified that an advanced directive questionnaire was available to me.

What are some facts that would help me get the best care? Who do I designate to make decisions for me? I like peaches for dessert and turkey with rice for dinner, and music by Annie calms me down, especially “Bad Times” and “Heartbeat,” specifically the Alan Braxe remix of the latter.

Refreshing my test results over and over, I finally worked up the urge to email my care team to ask how long it takes. One to two weeks, they said, but it seems they just got some of the results in. Soon thereafter, my doctor emailed with the results of those, telling me they found nothing cancerous.

I was relieved, mostly.

I can’t say I’m happy with the current state of my health, but one year into such a dramatic change I’ll take what good news I can get.

Hitting the Punchline

by AJ Earl

In December of 2018, a bus I was riding struck a cow and proceeded to skid down the road before coming to a stop.

I was in an accident in December of last year, I was on a bus and I was thrown down the aisle when we wrecked.

These are two true statements, and they’re the cause of a lot of my physical problems today. The difference between them is the little detail of hitting a cow, something I’ve learned the importance of since the accident. Although without the cow there’d have been no accident, a retelling of the same without that cow makes people visibly uncomfortable.

When I enter the room, my cane clacking or my walker squeaking, I reveal a lot about myself without ever speaking. I also don’t speak, so I reveal a lot about myself without doing that, even. Every little movement, graceful or not, is followed by people looking to be reassured about what’s wrong with me.

Their unease grows when they see that I have to type things out, and so when they ask what happened to me, I can see the narrowing of the eyes, the tightening of the brow. They’re waiting for something that will absolve them of their gaze and pity. The fact that I was in an accident doesn’t help, of course, but then the cow shows up.

I have to make it quick, since the revelation of my accident is like the cow itself, life-stopping. How can you really move on from the realization that you’re looking at someone whose whole life is now changed after an accident? The cow gives them permission to do so.

The bus looked terrible, but you should have seen the cow!

The inertia of the bus I was riding is much like the momentary anxiety of others when I talk about my past, it all seems to vanish when the cow shows up. “Oh no” and hands raised to mouths in shock become “oh dang” and a slight, polite chuckle.

At least my accident is amusing, I suppose.

Old 1980s style computers

Finding My Voice

The first time I had to give a presentation using my text2speech was terrifying. I was still at American University and presenting on Eric Rauchway’s The Winter War for my US History colloquium with Professor Allan Lichtman, a scholar of not only voting rights, but also President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the topic of my presentation. He knows his stuff, why wouldn’t I be afraid?

A few weeks prior to that presentation, I had lost my voice abruptly as a complication of an accident I was in over the winter holidays. It started with a sudden deepening of my voice and then one day I had a full-on stutter, and the next, nothing. I could conjure up simple words from time to time for a while, and even that gave out. From then on out I had to use a text to speech program on my laptop, the program speaking whatever I typed into it.

The presentation went well, and I got a 4.0 in that class.

Ultimately, after further complications, I transferred back here to Portland State University to complete my MA close to home. This decision was a good one, and I’m still learning every day how to deal with each new problem that appears with my health, from increasing dizziness to unforgiving fatigue that knocks me out for an entire day.

In the end I did find my voice, and it’s a robot.