Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Good bye, Granny

I'm going to talk about my grandmother today.

She grew up on a farm in upstate NY. Her father was something of a mythical figure ~ he claimed to have been brought down the mountain "in ropes" like some sort of wild man. He was a dowsey, a water witch and a one man band and a farmer. She would carry baked potatoes to school to keep her hand warm and then eat them for lunch. My sister and I always imagined her as something out of Little House on the Prairie, even though, the time was off by a good 50 years. My grandmother got an 8th grade education and then went to work at the mill stitching clothing in some rural sweat shop. She met my grandfather at a country dance. He told her he was in land transfer ~ he was digging ditches. They both loved to dance. There was no great love story, at least not that I heard, but they married when she was 33. My father was their only child and my grandmother was bound and determined to send him to college. She conspired with the principal at his high school (graduating class of 13) to get him a scholarship to a jesuit school. She was diagnosed with breast cancer my father's freshman year of college. She the most radical mastectomy I've ever seen ~ I honestly believed for the first half of my life that she was born with her deformity. My father, convinced she wouldn't survive, promised her he would finish college. And she lived to see that he did it!

She was already in her 60s when my sister and I were born, but her energy was unbelievable. She cooked constantly and could be counted upon to have at least 4 cookie jars filled with all different homemade cookies. When I was 10, she had a massive heart attack when the two of us were alone in her old house. I was left to call the rescue squad at a neighbor's house. When she got to the ER, they tried to take her teeth out because they couldn't imagine a 70 something woman without dentures, but she had all of her own teeth. She spent nearly 2 weeks in the hospital, but she recovered completely and quit smoking in the process.

She was surrounded by neighbors and relatives with great grandchildren, so she took to collecting stuffed animals from the colleges and grad school where my sister and I had earned degrees. Whenever the little old ladies got out their pictures and started bragging, she would pull out her collection and shame them with the fact that their families didn't get past high school. But she did desparately want the great grandkids. Family holidays would be several verses of "Are there any nice boys in New York?" (where my sister was living at the time) with refrains of "You never should have let the Matt get away" (the college boyfriend of mine she had met)

When my sister finally did get engaged, Granny had fallen and broken her collar bone and fractured her hip. She never was quite able to walk again after that and all the trips to hospital and rehab had made her level of dementia unignorable. She was terrified of three men dressed in clown costumes who came and terrorized her at night with their motor cycles. It was completely in her head, but as real as anything else. She didn't attend the wedding eventhough my father would have carried her on his back. And she finally got her great grandchild 6 months ago. Although she never got to meet him, her room at the nursing home has been decorated with his photos since his birth.

My grandmother died today. She was 98 years old.

This is in her memory.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Stress, anyone?!

So things have been a little crazy in real life and not so much in a good way. As you might have figured out, I work in public health; I'm an epidemiologist. Most of my job is outbreak investigations and bioterrorism preparedness. Lately, things have been just nuts!!

We have this enormous drill coming up. It's actually the DoD drill, an annual event that was in Las Vegas last year and Seattle the year before. The whole idea of a DoD drill is that the events have to be so huge that they overwhelm all civilian capacities: local, state and federal, so that the military has to be called in to assist. What that means for all purposes is that we're being set up to fail on a grand scale. Now, generally speaking, drills are run to see where the systems break. The point of the drills/exercises is to find the flaws so that they can be repaired before an actual event. That doesn't mean everyone isn't running around like chickens with their heads cut off in the mean time.

And meanwhile back in the "real" real world, we've had some outbreaks and other events that required heavy investigation. I've been looking at a really rare outbreak that we just can't find a link for and we're completely dumbfounded. And then the media had to get involved. Don't get me wrong ~ I'm all for warning the public about potential hazards! But, there's no point in creating hysteria or putting undue attention on something that is otherwise under control. Once the news gets involved, it just makes the investigation ten times harder. Plus, we've got more TB and West Nile season is upon us, so it's only going to get worse.

But I suppose to keep the level of difficulty high, I'm back at work today after three days of unbearable migraines. I actually spent Sunday, Monday and Tuesday flat on my back with ice on my head and a towel over my eyes to keep the light out. Vertical was not good because I felt like I was going to vomit. I couldn't read because the words wouldn't stay still on the page and the tv was too close to a strobe effect. The worst part is I have no idea what brought it on.