Thursday, May 22, 2008

seeds in my ears

i have been told on more than one occasion that i have nice ankles, which struck me as an odd bit of praise the first time i heard it. later, when i was introduced to the concept of the cankle, this compliment made a little more sense.

these days, i have one demure ankle and one less aesthetically pleasing ankle. my ugly ankle is adorned with a bulky mass of fibrous scar tissue, which can be seen and felt beneath the surface of my skin. manipulating my bulky mass in his office a few weeks ago, my acupuncturist called it "meaty."

"it's like. . ." he started, struggling to find the right words to describe it further. "do you eat meat?"


"think back to what it tastes like. that texture in your mouth. that's what your ankle feels like in my hand."

i have an acupuncturist. the needles he sticks into my left foot and ankle feel like they're on fire when they pierce the surface of my skin. he puts them other places, too, those needles. inserted anywhere else, the sensation is weird, vaguely uncomfortable, but i wouldn't describe it as burning.

i tell him this -- that the needles in my left ankle feel like they're on fire.

"that is the afflicted area," he says.

my acupuncturist has many tricks up the sleeve of his white, doctorly-looking lab coat. he has taped seeds inside my ears. he has scraped my ankle repeatedly and vigorously with a buffalo horn (a technique that i later discover is called gua sha). he has applied a curious-smelling herbal salve, vintage 1993, purported to "wipe bruises away," concocted by a revered kung fu master. he has "smoked" the needles in my ankle (that is, to heat them via an ignited bushel of twigs, an instrument that looked and smelled not unlike a blunt).

yeah, it sounds like hocus pocus to me too. i don't know if i buy it, but this particular acupuncturist is sponsoring the league, and treating our skaters at a pittance. i want to be back to 100% badly enough that, given the rightness of the price, i will swallow my skepticism. i will buy it at a reduced rate. and my fibrous mass does seem to be losing weight, though my ankle is a shadow of her formerly svelte sexy self.

i leave my acupuncturist's office in a much better mood than i was before i arrived. i feel inexplicably cheered despite having spent most of the previous hour splayed out and alone in a small dark room, needles rising from my skin, a roller derby voodoo doll. my acupuncturist vanishes before the needles do their magic; i'm not sure where he goes or what he does as i lay there, soaking up the light streaming through the room's single window, and listening to the music made by the sad, sick dogs crying out from the animal hospital located across the alley.

by the end of practice on monday night, my foot was in a lot of pain. it was aching and cramping, but i skated through it. on tuesday, i saw my acupuncturist for the third time. yesterday, i woke up and went to the gym. i did an hour-long class called burn & firm, which involved an ungodly number of jumping jacks and other plyometric drills. then i went to work, and by 6 p.m., i was at the doll factory with my skates on again. i took a break from 7:30-8 to grab a burrito, but otherwise, i was on wheels until 9:30. by the end of practice, i felt like i might collapse from exhaustion, but any ankle discomfort was almost imperceptible. in fact, i wasn't sure if my ankle was only slightly aching, or if my mummification-style tape job was perhaps too tight. a complete turnaround from monday night.

afterward, as i sat peeling off my gear, a teammate approached me.

"wow! so you're totally back to normal now, huh?"

"not really, but i'm working on it."

"well, you look like you are."

"it's an illusion, though it's good to know that i'm pulling it off."

another teammate, leia, sustained a knee injury around the same time i severed the ligament in my ankle. we both resumed skating at practices about a month ago. it was great having her there skating alongside me, knowing that we'd been through the same ordeal over the previous few months. then last week, she went down in a jam, and blew out her bad knee all over again. it had probably been too soon for her to come back -- her injury hadn't completely healed, and now she was back at square one. so, rather than have the fight crew continue to hold her place on the team's roster, she has chosen to step down. she made the announcement at practice on monday night, and it made me sick to hear it.

likewise, i found this new york times magazine article about the injury epidemic in women's sports sad, moving and familiar.

Monday, May 12, 2008

mother's day

my mother wears her stethoscope like a necklace. it is always around her neck - in the car, in the grocery store, when she's cooking dinner. as a kid, i remember her stethoscope brushing against my face when she leaned over to tuck me in at night. she was perpetually on her way to and from work.

my mother is a nurse on the retirement home circuit. she used to work in hospitals, but that was before i was born. some of my earliest memories are of visiting my mom at the old folks home, where she stood beside her med cart, hunched over, counting out pills. the nurse's station bustled with octogenarians, mostly women, in floral patterned muumuus. some sat in their wheelchairs drooling or crying out for their mothers, while others scuttled down the fluorescent-lighted hallway, assisted by their walkers, muttering obscenities under their breath.

"you little bitch," a wild-eyed granny once called me as i stood waiting for my mother. we were the same height, though she was in a wheelchair, and clutching a raggedy ann doll exactly like the one i had at home.

i was terrified of old people.

occasionally, the more with-it grannies would woo me with ribbon candy or butterscotch. given other options, i would have turned my nose at such third-rate offerings, but certainly having something sweet melting inside my mouth, rotting my teeth, was better than having nothing at all.

my mother has worked at a dozen of these places over the years, and one thing is always same: the smell. it's a distinct odor exclusive the old folks home, medicinal and unsavory. it's the scent of antibiotics punctuated with imagined meats: liver and tongue, tripe.

my mom got me my first job, at 16, in a retirement home. i worked in the kitchen. i wore a hairnet and pureed food for the old folks who couldn't eat solids. i'd dump whole pieces of roast beef into a food processor, and scoop the resultant brown mush onto their sectioned plastic plates. beef mush, carrot mush and a pile of mashed potatoes. everything was doused in gravy. after dinner, when i'd bus the dining hall, i'd find the brown and orange sludge crusted into the carpet.

i didn't last very long at the old folks home. soon i was working at the mall like all the other teenage girls, selling jewelry at a kiosk next to the escalator. silverworld.

yesterday, i called my mom to wish her a happy mother's day.

"your mother's been sick," she told me. my mom likes to refer to herself in the third person, most often as "the mama," e.g. "the mama misses you so much!"

"what kind of sick? are you ok?"

"i've had pneumonia for the past couple of weeks. and can you believe they made me go into work when i could barely stand up? i felt like i was going to die."

"i'm sorry, mom. that's awful."

"i know it. i wound up giving it to some of the people on my floor, and now they're dead."

"wait...what? they died?"

"yes, my pneumonia killed them. can you believe that shit?"

"that's absolutely terrible."

"yeah. what are you going to do? anyway, i've got to back to work."

"did you get my mother's day card?"

"i haven't had a chance to go through the mail yet. i'll look for it tomorrow."

"i got you a gift card for the cheesecake factory. have dinner on me."

"oh, my favorite! thanks, meg!"

"sure, of course. happy mother's day."