Sunday, September 25, 2016

What Happened to Prunes?

I‘m a creature of habit – particularly at breakfast. Unlike lunch and dinner where I don’t want to eat the same thing two days in a row, I’m more than happy to eat the same thing for breakfast EVERY DAY. 

But one day things changed. My younger sister, Tina, was over when I was eating my breakfast. She laughed at my prunes. She wasn’t the first person to make fun of the wrinkled fruit. My daughter, Brittany, thought it was quite funny that prunes resembled the desired after-effect that eating the fruit was supposed to evoke. I could take the gentle ribbing from my child, but my sister’s laughter at the prunes (and the connotation that it was something “old” people ate) was too much for me. 

I stopped eating prunes. 

I recently had an appendectomy. Although my surgeon didn’t know why my appendix became inflamed, or why it would happen to someone with a healthy diet, I decided to take steps to keep things “moving”.
I made a commitment to drink more water, exercise more often, and eat prunes again. 

The problem is I couldn’t find prunes in the store. I looked and looked and looked. However, my observant and more detailed-oriented spouse, CB, found the bagged fruit and plopped them in our Costco cart. I looked at the bag. It was labeled “sun sweet plums”.

All those years I was basing my search on the name “prunes” and bags of “plums” did not compute.  

Now, I’m not stupid. I know prunes are dried plums. As a public relations and marketing professional I can understand the name change. Prunes have a bad image. The word “prune” can mean “to make a facial expression exhibiting ill temper or disgust.”  People refer to old people, or other old things, as shriveled up old prunes. Plus people eat prunes when they are constipated. That is funny too (unless it happens to you and then it is a painfully unpleasant experience). 

Plums, on the other hand, have a good reputation. People use the expression “plum” for referring to  something of a superior or desireable kind, such as a financial bonus or "plum" position. Let’s not forget the nursery rhyme about little Jack Horner.

Little Jack Horner
Sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said 'What a good boy am I!'[1]

Now the poem is supposedly a satire with political overtones, but when I recited that nursery rhyme as a tot, no one explained that to me. All I knew is Jack stuck his grimy thumb in a pie, snagged a plum, and thought he pulled off some sort of heroic feat. Centuries later it left another subliminal message.  Plums are good. Prunes are bad. 

However, I must concede, prunes are funny. I remember back in 1967 I was watching television with my little brother, Terry. A commercial about prunes came on the air. It made us both laugh. It’s worth watching.

But it also made me think. This ad was not only humorous; it was a great marketing campaign. Even as a grade-school-er, I was inspired by it. I thought that if my desire to be a sitcom writer didn’t pan out, I could make my way in society by making fun of fruit and vegetables. Who knew it would turn into a career in public relations and marketing? 

But the story of the prunes took an unexpected turn for me. Rather than having food engineers get rid of the “wrinkles” as they promised in that funny commercial, the marketing folks decided to just change the name.  Shakespeare may have had Juliet say, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." And that may be true. But when you change a bag of prunes to a bag of plums, you might confuse a few folks who are looking for prunes to repair their internal plumbing.

Not one to hold a grudge about the name change, I have decided to poke fun of things with a poem of my own.

My gut was full,
intestines stuck.
I looked for prunes
but no such luck.
The name had changed from prune to plum.
I saw it not, gee I feel dumb.
A lesson learned, I do implore,
“read the labels at the store”.
Both prunes and plums will help you go.
But if not careful you may not know
that a rose by another name might smell as sweet
Or be ignored and spell defeat.

[1] Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 234–7.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Goodbye Appendix

Through the years I have heard people make fun of philosophers who contemplate their navels in an ivory tower. Why an ivory tower?  Maybe the lighting is better. I don’t know about you, but my belly button is a cute little “innie” and it would be hard to contemplate it properly without proper illumination.

But my navel contemplation is more quizzical than philosophical.  I recently had a laparoscopic appendectomy. My abdomen has a couple small bandages – left side, right side and a small cut above my navel so the surgeon could poke around, find, and remove my inflamed appendix. 

I didn’t see this coming.

I felt a little tired and nauseous over the weekend. When I ate pizza on Saturday night (a treat from my usual healthy diet) it felt like a leaden lump in my gut. I blamed it on overeating and my age. On Sunday I felt lethargic. On Monday when I had chills, muscle aches, and a fever that got as high as 101.5, I figured I had the flu. I took it easy, drank water, and took ibprofen for the pain. Since I’m a reasonably healthy woman, and I don’t have any medical issues, I don’t have a general doctor.

I have a couple good friends who are physicians, one is Carol, an OB/GYN, and the other is Andrea, a naturopath.  When I have medical questions I talk to them. On Tuesday my fever was down to 100, the muscle aches were gone and I had a little bit of energy. My appetite wasn’t great, but I managed to eat yogurt, a bit of fruit, and some soup, so I knew I wasn’t in any danger of wasting away.

Both of my doctor friends said that I should stop procrastinating and get a regular doctor who could treat me. Physicians should not treat friends and members of their own family. I knew this advice was sound. I vowed to find a family doc from the list provided by my healthcare provider. However, when you’re sick, it’s hard to get a new patient appointment, so it’s best to already have a doctor on board before you really need one. Also, when you are sick and/or in pain, it’s hard to make navigate an unfamiliar website.
I learned this the hard way.

By Tuesday night I still didn’t feel well, but at least my fever was gone. I called the nurse hotline. I had completely different symptoms than the day before. The nurse asked questions and listened to my responses. I thought she would tell me to take two aspirin and call in the morning. Instead, she said I should be seen by a physician. I told her I didn’t have one. She said to go to the ER or urgent care that night or the next morning. I said I would go in the morning. Ever the optimist, I asked if I should still go even if I felt better, and she said I absolutely should. I was tired by this time, so I figured I would go to bed, go back to the health provider’s website in the morning, and find out what urgent care facility would take my insurance.

Which brings me to my second bit of advice; know what hospital and/or urgent care takes your insurance BEFORE you need it. 

Around 4 a.m. on Wednesday morning I had abdominal pain in a band-like region across the front of my stomach. I went to take an ibuprofen, but I read the label, and it said it could lead to stomach bleeding. No ibuprofen for me. I tried to navigate my healthcare provider’s website and find an urgent care that would accept my insurance. I couldn’t make sense of it, nor could I find a customer service number for help. Again, this info may seem easy to navigate under normal circumstances, but I was alone, in pain, and frankly, scared.

I reached out to my OB/GYN friend Carol (who was out of town) and she said to call the nurse help line again and ask her where I should go. I knew the nurse wouldn’t have this info, but I asked, she put me on hold, got customer care on the line, and found a place near my house. A great example of how nurses go the extra mile! 

I still thought my problem would be solved by antibiotics, but I went to the urgent care. I didn’t call first. I got down there at 7:15 a.m. They don’t open until 8. This leads me to my third insight. Not all urgent care facilities are 24 hours. Again, it pays to know this stuff ahead of time.

I waited in the parking lot for 45 minutes, but once I got inside things went pretty quickly. The physician poked around my abdomen and it was tender. In my infinite (hrmph) wisdom I had looked up about appendicitis on the internet and since my pain was not near my navel and I did not have classic symptoms, I ruled it out. The physician was not as dismissive about the possibility of a misbehaving appendix. And even if he were, SOMETHING wasn’t right and my pain had gone on long enough. He ordered a cat scan – stat. I didn’t even have time to pee out all the dye they gave me to drink when I was informed to get down to the ER. It was my appendix.

I let Carol and Andrea know I was on my way to the ER. Carol tried to convince me to have someone drive me. But I had already driven to the urgent care and cat scan facility, so I felt confident I could manage by  myself. I was lucky on this one. I made it ok. But in retrospect, that was not a smart choice. Don’t do as I did. I was lucky. You may not be. Even if no one is available to take you, call an ambulance, or even a cab. Don’t drive yourself when you are sick or in pain.

Once in the ER, things went quickly. I had planned on calling my sister, Tina, and daughter, Alicia, later. I didn’t want to worry them. I thought I would have lots of time to call. Wrong again. But fortunately for me, Carol called both my sister and daughter and both of them were with me while I was getting pre-op tests etc. Having my family there meant more than I realized. In addition to the moral support, Tina had a better handle on our family medical history, and, unlike me, she is very good at remembering details. Alicia is always calm in a crisis and was there for practical matters such as taking care of the pet bunnies and letting my friends know what happened. 

Once I had pain meds on board I was feeling pretty good. With Tina and Alicia as my audience I managed to crack a few jokes and regale them with a few stories. I don’t know if I would have been as brave had I faced all this alone. Even with drugs, I would’ve spent less time exposing the staff to my drug-induced, unfiltered sense of humor and more time worrying. So, another insight, don’t go into surgery without telling someone. If nothing else, it’s calming to know someone is waiting for you when you wake up from the operating table.

The 45-minute surgery was a success and I’m recovering nicely. My good friend, Lauren, took me home and made sure I had what I needed (soup, ginger ale etc., prescriptions etc.). I go back to work on Wednesday. I’m not sure why I had appendicitis. I believe it is a mystery to most docs. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn a few things that I would like to pass on to you:

  •  Know which hospital, doctors, pharmacies, and urgent care facilities accept your insurance BEFORE you need to use it.
  • Find out the hours of the urgent care. Not all are 24 hours.

  • Don’t try to diagnose your own symptoms through webMD – especially for something that could be fatal such as a burst appendix.

  • Don’t drive yourself to the hospital.

  • Let your friends and/or family members know if you aren’t feeling well so they can check on you.

  • Never assume your problem is minor. Flu-like symptoms often mask more serious conditions.

In retrospect I would like to say how thankful I am to the doctors, nurses, and support staff that treated me. They were the best! I would also like to thank my family, friends, and co-workers. They came through for me like champions. 

While I have to admit I have been contemplating my navel more than usual these past few days, this unexpected event has me contemplating a few other things as well. Be prepared for a medical emergency BEFORE it happens. It will save you time, money, stress, and yes, maybe even your life.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Dealing with Change

Like most people, I don’t like change. Yes, change is inevitable. Yes, change is the only way to improve and grow. Life is like a soiled diaper, if you don't change it, it stinks. Blah, blah, blah. I know it, I accept it, and as a self-improvement writer, I even write about it. 

But it doesn’t mean I like it.

Recently, when something DIDN’T change I performed a little happy dance.  I work as a public relations specialist at Royal Neighbors of America, one of the largest women-led life insurers in the U.S.  I am constantly creating a number of articles, press releases, web content, and blogs.  Don’t get me wrong. I love my job and the people I work with. But like most workplaces, especially one that is as highly regulated as life insurance, there is a chain of command. Many eyes see my work, comment on it, change it, and send it back to me for revisions. 

However, once in a while something wonderful happens – nothing. My article comes back unscathed. It's sheer ecstasy when a bit of my copy emerges unsullied from the strike-throughs on the track-changes tool on Word. Or better yet, it comes back with a happy, little bubble comment that says something like “great” or “we loved this”. It makes the whole process seem worthwhile. An unaltered document is like a victory to me.  On the rare occasion my work is accepted as is (rare), or praised (less rare), I raise my fist in exalted victory, mutter a happy “yes!”, spin in my chair, take a second to regain my balance, and get back to work.

I don’t think this is an unusual reaction for a writer – especially a public relations specialist, journalist, or screenwriter.  For instance, a popular expression in the screenwriting world is you don’t get paid for what you do, but rather what they do to you. It isn’t that bad in PR. We are trained to see the bright side of things. Many of us are like cocker spaniels. We live for a smile, a pat on the head, and occasional byline. Of course the biggest motivator comes from knowing something you write or do created value in the world. I must confess, for me, that is the greatest joy of all. In those moments of helping others I would gladly work for free. But a gal has to eat and live, so even on a good day I’m still cashing my paycheck. 

While I would never discourage anyone from these celebratory moments of bliss, as a Buddhist I know personal glory is a double-edged sword. That type of joy (rapture) is not true happiness. It is a transitory emotion. It’s like a hit of cocaine. It’s a momentary high. And what comes up must come down. The problem is when we base our happiness on external factors such as praise, wealth, fame, status etc. it is an unsustainable happiness. Even the greatest transitory joys in life are temporary. Even if we are extremely fortunate and enjoy wonderful circumstances for many years, all things come to an end. After all, we can’t take our possessions, our wealth, our achievements, our families, or our status with us when we die.

However, from a Buddhist perspective, there is one thing continues sticks with us – our karma. The good and bad causes we make do not fade away. It may take eons for past thoughts, speech and actions to manifest into an appropriate and correlating effect, but it does. Of course it would be nice if we could see immediate results from our good efforts. But then it would mean we would have to see instantaneous results from the bad causes too and who wants that? 

There is a reason for the delay.  As time elapses we have the opportunity to (hopefully) grow and gain better insight into our past behavior and learn from it.

But we are human. We will make mistakes. And I am not advocating we live a life without pleasure. I, for one, will continue to enjoy joyous interactions with my family and friends, laugh at jokes, smile when I know I have helped another, and yes, do a little jig when one of my unedited articles gets picked up by the media. 

But I have changed.

As I have practiced Buddhism over the years, my perspective about being a writer has evolved. I can revel in a little personal glory now and again, and I can grumble a bit when things don’t turn out the way I would like. The bottom line is deep down I know these little incidents aren’t as important as I would like to think they are. 

If I want to be happy, I need to concentrate less on glory and more on prayer. In my case that prayer is chanting the words Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. When I chant it sparks an internal human revolution in me.  As a result of my prayer I can see that many of the “edits” I face help me grow. It can also serve as an opportunity to change for the better – and sometimes that applies to my copy as well.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Pressing Matters

It’s one of those rare weekends when I’m home alone. CB is off camping. I have plans with the grand kids, but that is hours away. I start a load of laundry and pull out the ironing board. 

Ironing used to be a chore I detested, but as I have gotten older I find it can be relaxing.

My mom never seemed to mind ironing either. There is something therapeutic about getting rid of wrinkles without a facelift.

But I remember mom seemed to enjoy pressing clothes even when she was younger. I can still imagine her in the kitchen sprinkling water on a mountain of laundry. These were the days before steam irons. She filled an empty 7-up bottle with water, placed a little gizmo on the top, shook the bottle, and dampened the clothes with it. But rather than ironing right then and there, she would put the clothes in a bag and stick them in the refrigerator. Later she would pull them out and iron away. I remember wondering why she did this. It always seemed a little odd to me, but I knew if I challenged her wisdom, or complained that my blouses smelled like cauliflower, I would be pressing my own clothing. So I kept my mouth shut. 

But I was still cynical. I thought ironing was a big waste of time. Who cared about a few wrinkles, or whether or not your pleated skirt had perfect creases? But when I complained about it, my friend Maria was unsympathetic. She was the youngest of six kids and her job was to iron the clothing for all the family members who still lived at home. That included Maria, her mom, dad and brother, Joey. Mrs. Hernandez thought everything should be pressed – from doilies to sheets. Imagine my horror when I learned Maria was even expected to iron her brother’s blue jeans. Now mind you, this was decades before designer jeans, and Joey worked in construction. But that didn’t matter. Maria ironed his jeans and Joey went off to his job looking clean, fresh and pressed. 

My disdain of ironing was shared by a cousin in the Hernandez family, who ironically, was also named Sally. She would hang out her clothes (few people had clothes dryers in those days – at least in sunny Arizona). But Sally laundered with a twist. After the clothes were on the line she would get out the hose,  squirt the wrinkles out of the clothing, and let them dry (and stiffen) in the sun. I think this story was relayed to me as a cautionary tale, but I thought the idea was ingenious. 

The next time I took my clothes out to hang on the line, I gave them a hose bath. The water is so hard in Arizona that it also acted as a type of starch. When the clothes dried, they were so rigid they could practically stand on their own. I did this for a year. But all good things must come to an end.

After high school I married a Navy sailor. When he reported for work, even in dungarees, he had to report looking spiffy. An improperly pressed pair of dungarees could result in ramifications in the wrinkle-free Navy, so I did my best to make sure John would pass inspection. He always did. But when the Navy introduced cotton/polyester blend clothing that resisted wrinkles – let’s just say that was a happy day for a lot of sailors and their spouses.

After John was honorably discharged, my iron got a well-earned rest. Clothes were easier to care for. More people (myself included) had a clothes dryer. And as long as you didn’t leave your clothes in the washer or dryer overnight (oops) chances were good your clothing would not be a big crumpled mess. Three cheers for polyester!

Fast forward a few decades. I divorced, held a few different jobs, and then started my own company, Marks Public Relations. In an effort to save money and be more environmentally responsible, I went back to hanging my clothes out to dry. I admit it, if you hang your clothes on a clothesline, chances are they are going to look more crumpled. But that didn’t matter to me. Except when I had to go to a meeting or needed to accompany a client for an appearance at the TV station, I didn’t have to look nice and crisp. In fact, I mostly sat barefoot in front of my home computer churning out press releases, media pitches, and scripts looking a bit rumpled. But things changed. 

I learned of a great public relations position at Royal Neighbors of America. I wrote a good cover letter, successfully made it past the pre-screening process and three additional interviews, and was offered the position!  I was (and am) very happy.

But working in a professional environment again means I had to make a wardrobe adjustment. I have traded my craggy attire for a more professional look. Even on business casual days (Thursday and Friday) I make sure my shirts – and yes even my blue jeans – are pressed. A little ironing is a small price to pay to work at a job I love. I don’t regret my decision one iota. And I bet Maria and Mrs. Hernandez would be happy to know I launder without the hose. It took more than 40 years, but I’ve finally mended my wrinkled ways.