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Oral Surgery, Interrupted

            At my most recent visit with the dentist, about a month ago, I finally asked her about the oral surgeon’s recommendation that I get a full implant to replace my upper teeth – with screws in my cheek bones to stabilize it – and the dentist said it was the best option for me, despite the cost. She said that I will lose more teeth, more rapidly, in the near future, because of the progression of gum recession and bone loss. She was definite, and the hygienist, who I’ve been going to for about twenty years (she worked with my previous dentist too), agreed with the dentist’s assessment, and said that I’d be in good hands with this particular oral surgeon. My mother had also done her research, with friends in the dental field and of course on Google, and she felt that this was the right plan too. And, Mom said, as a result of my father’s death last fall she would be getting a larger social security check from now on, so, in a way, my father would be helping to pay for it.

            I was still scared, though, of the cost of the procedure and the radical nature of it; but I was more scared of not doing it, or of not doing it in time, and losing more teeth without having something to replace them.

As soon as we called the oral surgeon to say yes, the process started to move forward at high speed. The office manager at the oral surgeon’s office had to do a credit check to see if I qualified for a loan, and then I needed to go into the office to sign the loan papers, and get x-rays and a lot of pictures of my smile, and intra-oral pictures to cover every centimeter of my mouth, so that the surgery could be planned out and the temporary and permanent implants designed. The doctor’s assistant, who did all of the pictures, some even with her cell phone while I used the retractors to hold my mouth open, also gave me a rundown of what to expect after the surgery: a lot of pain (with a prescription for Percocet, just in case), and bruising on my face for ten days to two weeks, and oh yeah, it might be difficult to get used to eating and talking with the temporary implant (the permanent one would come in three months and be made of less bulky and more long-lasting materials), and I’d have to be on a soft food diet for the whole three months to protect the temporary implant, and probably not eat much at all for the first few days while my gums healed, before they could even put the temporary implant in place.

I went home with a gift bag (a Water Pik, signed loan papers, cough drops, and colorful plumes of paper), and a lot of fear. I knew I had to follow through with this, not just because of the loan papers, but because this would be my best option to feel like a viable person in the future, but I had a lot of nightmares: teeth being pulled out of my mouth with rusty plyers, monsters shoving things down my throat while I’m under anesthesia, etc.

“Monsters?”

A day or two later, I got an email from the Anesthesiologist’s office telling me what I’d need to do for medical clearance before the surgery: I’d need an EKG and blood tests and an overall exam from my primary care doctor, and an okay from a pulmonologist. But my primary care doctor didn’t have any appointments available until the week after the surgery, and it took a while before one of the schedulers at her office offered to let me see the nurse practitioner there who had an opening. And then I called the office of a pulmonologist I’d seen five or six years ago, for shortness of breath, and his scheduler said he didn’t have appointments available until October.

So, back to the primary care doctor’s office for a referral to another pulmonologist, and, wonder of wonders they had a name ready and he had an appointment available within an hour. And he was lovely. He read through my test results from five years ago, and checked my breathing, and took a short history, and gave me his okay for surgery. He told me that he’d had a similar situation where he’d needed pulmonary clearance for surgery, and they wouldn’t take his own medical word for it, so he’d gone to the pulmonologist I’d seen before (the one with no appointments until October) to get his clearance done.

            After that, I was finally able to take a deep breath. It seemed like things were going to be okay, and there were even nice people in the world who understood what I was going through, and then I got home and found a jury summons in the mail, for the week of the surgery.

            Really God? Really?!

            I had to email the jury commissioner’s office directly because the only postponement options offered online were for during the school year, and luckily they were able to give me a new date in August (by which time my bruises would, hopefully, be less visible).

            At the same time, I was preparing for the trip to the hospital in Philadelphia (which turned out to be a virtual visit at the last minute, thank God), and worrying about whether or not to take the next semester of my online Hebrew class over the summer, knowing I’d have to miss a couple of class sessions, and possibly stay off camera for a few others, what with bruises on my face and lispy, awkward speech. But the idea of not having those classes, and only having the pain to look forward to, seemed too awful, so I stuck with it. And then I needed to go for a Covid test and pick up the meds from CVS that I was supposed to start three days before the surgery, and…

And then Mom’s hip replacement popped out. Her hip had been sore for a few days, but the doctor wasn’t worried and just recommended more rest. But when I came in from walking the dog’s Saturday morning Mom said, “I have some bad news,” or something equally as understated, and she told me she could feel something protruding under the skin and she was ready to throw up from the pain. I raced around looking for the doctor’s phone number, which was probably in plain sight somewhere, and eventually found it online, and the doctor said to call for an ambulance and go to the emergency room. The dogs barked up a storm from behind my bedroom door when the paramedics arrived, but Mom was really calm and just needed some help getting her shoes on before they guided her down the stairs in a wheelchair and out to the ambulance.

“Why can’t we go with Grandma?”

The ER was crowded with Covid patients, so I wasn’t allowed to go in and had to wait for news at home. And I still wasn’t allowed to go in later in the day, after they’d decided to transfer her to the hospital in the city where she’d had the original surgery, so I had to drop off her clothes and phone charger with a very nice security guard, without seeing her at all. And then I went home and called the oral surgeon’s office and left a message (it was the weekend) telling him that I would have to postpone the surgery, which was supposed to have taken place that Thursday. And then I had to sit and wait.

Up until that moment I’d felt like I was on a speeding train with all of the doctors’ appointments and the upcoming oral surgery and jury duty and then getting Mom to the emergency room and bringing her clothes. And then the world just stopped, and all I could do was sit by the phone.

“I’ll sit with you, Mommy.”

But Mom’s second surgery finally took place mid-week, and it went well, though the surgeon sounded more humble on the phone this time around, explaining exactly what he’d done to make the hip replacement more stable. And then I heard from the oral surgeon’s office manager that my new surgery date wouldn’t be until late in August, dangerously close to the beginning of the synagogue school year (though I’m hopeful that with the latest Covid sub-variant going around, I will be able to wear a mask in the classroom and not feel too self-conscious).

Now that Mom’s home, and safe, I should be feeling better, but I’m afraid of what will happen when the world starts moving again and I have to rush to the drug store, or see doctors, or go to jury duty, or prepare for my own surgery, or go back to teaching in the fall. I feel like a stopped clock that has to be reset, and my arms will flail out of control as I start to speed forward through the hours again. But for now, there’s a calm in our house, as Cricket climbs back up onto her grandma’s bed, and even lets Ellie sit nearby (though not for long); we can all breathe a sigh of relief, knowing we are home, together, where we belong.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

The New Couch

            We finally, finally, got rid of our old couch. We’d gotten it when we first moved into this apartment, nine years ago, and it was shiny and new, black (faux) leather, with a convertible bed (because we were sure, or Mom was sure, that the grandkids would be sleeping over all the time). In the past, at least since one of our dogs ate a whole couch when I was growing up, we bought our “new” couches from charity shops. But when we bought this apartment, after many years of renting, Mom decided to put aside her prejudices as the daughter of a consumer advocate and avowed penny pincher and spend some money on real furniture (though we still got a lot of IKEA bookcases, because…I like to put things together). The big purchases at that time, other than the apartment itself, were the couch and a dining room set (which we almost never use because we don’t eat at the dining room table and because our dining room is really just an entrance hall and not big enough for the table and chairs we chose, though they are beautiful).

Cricket claimed the couch when we first moved in

            Anyway, it became clear early on that the faux leather of the new couch was really really faux, because it started to flake. Neither of our dogs at the time shed, but the couch made up for it, spreading tiny pieces of black material around the apartment, and no amount of sweeping could eliminate the trail of black fabric pieces.

            But, we’d spent so much money getting the apartment in shape, and the couch still worked, even if it was quickly becoming a naked-fabric-couch that had to be covered with blankets (and then with a special couch cover that still couldn’t prevent the shedding underneath), so we kept it. It was like a snake constantly shedding its skin and never getting a new one – not the most uplifting metaphor for a new start in life, but it was comfortable, and there was that convertible bed, just in case, so we tried to ignore it.

Ellie, Mom and Cricket ignoring the shedding couch
Ellie, enjoying the first couch cover

            Until Mom hit a wall. I can’t say what finally caused her to hit the wall. She has an incredible ability to tolerate things other people could not put up with, but then, all of a sudden, she can’t anymore, and last year, the switch flipped on the couch. But she was still her father’s daughter, so she had to do a lot of shopping and price comparisons (if Consumer Reports reviews couches, I’m sure she checked in with them). She finally found the couch she wanted, but it wasn’t available right away, so we waited, and finally, a few weeks ago, the new brown leather (non-convertible) couch arrived.

            When the delivery guys took away the old couch, and we’d swept away as many of the black flakes as we could, we decided to also get rid of the carpet runner we’d bought from Costco a few years ago, because it was holding onto the leftover flakes from the couch. I’d ordered a new runner before the new couch came, but it would be a few more days before it arrived, and I thought it wouldn’t be terrible to have a bare floor for a few days, to go with the shiny new couch and the sudden lack of tiny black flakes all over the floor.

Ellie claiming the old rug

            Except, the new couch was a little bit higher, and a lot more slippery, and neither one of the dogs could figure out how to jump up onto it. I put a towel on the floor, which made it possible for Cricket to jump up, but Ellie still needed to be picked up, and even then, she couldn’t find her footing on the couch and seemed to think she was on a skating rink, sliding along on her butt.

            As soon as the new rug arrived and we’d put it down in front of the couch both girls were able to jump on and off the couch with ease, and all the world was right again.

            I hate change, and clearly so do they, but once we’d addressed what they actually needed – solid footing – everything else became manageable. And it got me thinking.

            I wanted a new rug because the old one was drab and cheap and couldn’t quite get clean, and I chose something colorful and better made and machine washable – but I didn’t think about what the dogs needed: that the rug had to be here now, not a day, or three days, later. They didn’t care what the rug cost or what it looked like or if it could be cleaned easily – they only cared if the ground felt secure under their paws, so that they could get up on the couch when they wanted to and feel like they had some control over their world.

Ellie and the new couch
Cricket sniffing the new rug

            There’s something here that I’ve been trying to piece together; a lesson about the difference between what matters to me in life, versus what I think is supposed to matter to me, or what matters to other people. It feels like I’ve been missing a lot of these cues, not just from the dogs but also from myself, and ignoring the real underlying need in favor of what I think my needs should be. But when I don’t check in with my real needs, or discount them, I end up feeling insecure and as if the world is an incredibly slippery place. I think the girls are teaching me that I need to pay closer attention, and give more weight, to my feelings, especially when I have the sense that something is missing. Because without solid ground under my feet, I’ll never be able to jump.

“Much better.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

To the Library we go

 

We walked the dogs to the library the other day. It was a magical moment when the weather was cooperating, and I actually had the energy to walk. We leashed up the dogs and put our overdue books in a bag and off we went. Cricket loves to go on long walks and visit other places. She would prefer to drag me around the neighborhood for an hour or two a day, if it were up to her, whereas Butterfly would prefer to never leave her backyard.

"Let's go!"

“Let’s go!”

When we first moved to this apartment, a year and a half ago, Butterfly blossomed. She smiled more. She ran in the yard and recognized our door right away and ran straight too it, off leash, within days. She was home.

"My backyard!"

“My backyard!”

Butterfly is not a fan of walking along the very noisy street next to our building, though, so I had to carry her for the first part of the trip to the library. I carried her down the hill and across the street, while Mom and Cricket stopped every few seconds to sniff things and race ahead, and sniff things again and race ahead again.

"Must. Sniff. Everything."

“Must. Sniff. Everything.”

"Cricket, are you sure it's safe out there?"

“Cricket, are you sure it’s safe out there?”

I expected Butterfly to be fine walking on her own once we reached the side street, but she still refused. She tried to pull back towards home, and when that didn’t work she just refused to move at all. She was afraid of every noise, especially the birds squawking from the nearby trees.

I carried her like a baby, with her head resting on my shoulder, and that seemed to calm her down. I tried setting her down a few more times, because fifteen pounds gets heavy after a while, but she’d walk for a little bit and then stop and refuse to go any further.

"Mommy, I think my tongue is falling out of my mouth."

“Mommy, I think my tongue is falling out of my mouth.”

We finally made it to the library and dropped off our books in the book slot, and then decided to walk home through the duck pond, hoping the serene atmosphere would help Butterfly stay on her own feet. We walked on the sidewalk, to avoid as much goose poop as possible, and for a little while, Butterfly was fine. She was even running ahead of Cricket, who was hyperventilating. The sound of Cricket’s breath, scratching against her vocal cords, made me picture a tiny musician inside of her throat, playing a tiny violin very badly.

"I'm not choking. I don't know why you think I'm choking."

“I’m not choking. I don’t know why you think I’m choking.”

Before we were halfway through the park, Butterfly balked again. I veered off onto the grass after all, hoping that would make her feel better, but it didn’t. I had to carry her, and dodge goose poop, all the way up the hill, until we were back to the sidewalk and the busy street. I put Butterfly down, just to rest my arms for a second, and as soon as she realized we were on our way home, she started to hop and smile.

We had to wait for the light to change, and then wait for cars to swoop around the corner at high speed, but then Butterfly pulled me across the street and up the hill as determined as a marathoner in her last lap.

"Are we there yet?"

“Are we there yet?”

I’d been listening to Sheryl Crow singing “Home” earlier in the day, maybe on a TV show or a movie, and the song had become an earworm playing over and over in my mind, louder and louder, as Butterfly pulled me into our parking lot, and around to the backyard, and straight to our door. Home at last.

"Wait, the walk is over?"

“Wait, the walk’s over?”

 

My Mezuzah

 

A mezuzah is a totem, a sort of anti-goblin device slash symbol of Jewish identity that Jewish people are supposed to place on our doorways. The mezuzah itself is a rolled up parchment inside of a decorative case and the parchment comes from the bible and basically reminds us to love God, and believe in God, and keep the commandments, and pass it all on to our children.

It's pink!

It’s pink!

You’re supposed to kiss the mezuzah – or kiss your fingers and then touch the mezuzah – every time you enter or leave the room, but I don’t have the patience for that. I have my one mezuzah at the front door, and I notice it when I walk in, and it gives me a feeling of familiarity. I happen to think my mezuzah is pretty.

The only other thing we have in front of the apartment door is a red welcome mat that almost always has a few pieces of kibble on it. So, welcome, dogs live here. We also have a table out in the hall with plants on it, and there are plants outside the front door of our building, and a turtle made of painted rocks. So we have a few things that announce who we are – Jewish dog people with lots of plants and an interest in turtles.

Turtle guards the garden.

Turtle guards the garden.

When my brother’s family came to visit, my niece Lilah, the black lab, who had only been here once before, raced up the stairs and went straight to our door without anyone reminding her where to go. She knew which apartment smelled right. Eau de kibble sends the message.

Lilah!

Lilah!

Lilah in the snow.

Lilah chasing Cricket in the snow.

But a mezuzah shouldn’t just be a sign to other Jews, as if only Jews should feel welcome in my home. I feel more like the mezuzah announces who I am, so that you will feel more comfortable telling me who you are.

I like symbols. An idea is elusive, but a physical symbol is visceral and concrete, and makes things easier to remember. I’ve considered dog related symbols for our front door too. The shelter where we adopted Butterfly gives out huge paw magnets that you can put on your fridge, and car stickers, and sweatshirts, and blankets, and on and on. But, by the time you get close enough to my door to see a sticker, you will have heard Cricket barking at you from inside, so the sticker would be kind of irrelevant.

I’m not comfortable wearing a star of David necklace. I had one, but I kept yanking at the chain until the chain broke, two or three times. Maybe the necklace felt too reminiscent of the yellow stars Jews had to wear during the holocaust, or maybe it’s just that the necklace I had came from my father’s mother, and she grossed me out.

I wear my Koru instead. It’s a New Zealand/Maori symbol of new birth – an unfurling fern – and I wear it to try to remind myself that I can start again every day. I don’t have to be stuck in the past, even if the past is the bad day I had yesterday. It’s not a religious or spiritual symbol for me, it’s a reminder, like a rubber band on your wrist (I tried the rubber band idea first, but it hurt too much).

Koru and hair.

My Koru, and hair.

I’m afraid to post this now, given the current situation in Israel. I feel vulnerable when I watch the news. When I heard about mass protests against Israel in Europe, and anti-Semitic slurs on college campuses, I couldn’t help but feel frightened.

To me, having a mezuzah on my door means that I feel safe telling people that I am Jewish and I don’t live in a place where being Jewish makes me a target. Putting a mezuzah on my door, or writing about being Jewish in a blog that is largely about dogs, is my way of saying that I know I’m safe and I don’t have to hide who I am in order to reach out to new people.

My girls, and Ducky too.

My girls, and Ducky too.

Leaving Limbo

Butterfly's new room

Butterfly’s new room

            We are moving. We’ve lived in limbo, intentionally, for fifteen years, avoiding people and places that would remind me of where I grew up and what I had to contend with. This neighborhood has been my witness protection program. It’s not that I live in the country or out in the boonies, but it takes a while to get to the expressway and that’s an important point on Long Island. It takes a while to get anywhere from here. I will miss the privacy of living off a small road. We’re moving to a major road, near a high school and a train station. I’m afraid of being so visible.

I’ve been gradually moving back into the world, going to synagogue again, going to school, and finally moving into an area where I will run into people I knew before. I think I’m ready but there will be no way to be sure until I get there, and take the next step.

            When we first moved here fifteen years ago, it was the beginning of April, and the trees smelled like honey. I grew up in a flat neighborhood, with wide green lawns and evergreen trees and tall, old maples and oaks and it was majestic, but monotone. Here it was pink and white and red and yellow. Someone told me that this neighborhood was where the gardeners for the gold coast mansions lived. So they would come home and experiment with color and shape and size and arrangement. It’s a nice story, if it’s true.

Autumn in the neighborhood

Autumn in the neighborhood

            I will miss how familiar everything is. I know how long each route is; I know where the hills are, and where the road dips, and where a dog will bark.

I can’t imagine all the smells Cricket will miss from her five and a half years worth of walks in this neighborhood.

Cricket sniffing her neighborhood

Cricket sniffing her neighborhood

I’ve worked so hard at overcoming my social anxieties, and I do a lot better now, but I still panic, I still feel overwhelmed. And then someone walks by with a dog and I’m a chatter box, asking the dog’s name, giving pets and scratches, talking about my dogs, forgetting to ask the name of the human, or offer my own name, or shake hands.

            I feel such relief when I see a dog, of any kind. My autonomic nervous system calms down at the sight of a dog.

Nose kisses with Poochie

Nose kisses with Poochie

            I’m better at collecting dog friends than people friends. I feel much more confident that I am likeable with dogs. People make me anxious and make me question my value. Dogs just boost my neurotransmitters and make me feel loved.

Cricket and Ursula, the boxing puppies

Cricket and Ursula, the boxing puppies

            We made cards for our nearest neighbors and homemade dog blankets for three of the dogs Cricket and Butterfly love and will miss very much. But I felt awkward giving gifts and presuming we would be missed when we leave. And I was worried they would be mad at us for leaving and upsetting the equilibrium of the block. But it turned out that our neighbors loved us in return, and though they will miss us, they wish us well.

This was the picture on the card to say goodbye

This was the picture on the card to say goodbye

            A few years back, when I was walking Cricket around the neighborhood, we came across a tree that looked a lot like a chicken. I was still pining for my ex-boyfriend, a chicken enthusiast, and I wanted to believe that the chicken tree was a sign from the universe, that some part of him was still with me. The chicken tree gave me hope. This whole neighborhood has sustained me for fifteen years and offered me small gifts that have allowed me to hope that the future will be brighter and that moving forward will be a good thing.

The Chicken Tree

The Chicken Tree