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We should have known a year like this would bring us a Christmas season as difficult as this one was.

Overnight December 2-3, my mother became sick with what we thought might be food poisoning or a bug. She seemed to be doing better, so I was stunned when I called her that Friday (the 4th) to say I’d be coming early for the weekend, and she told me she’d been so bad that day that my sister took her to the doctor. The prognosis: maybe diverticulitis, maybe a kidney stone.

Mom did okay that evening. We watched TV, including the Monk finale, and had a pleasant time. Within less than 30 minutes of her going to bed, though, she was up and pacing with terrible pain. It was so severe I became frightened. Mom, not a person who complains a lot or becomes overly dramatic, was shaking severely and pleading, “PLEASE, please, please.” I called Diamondqueen and asked her to come help me decide whether to phone for an ambulance.

The ambulance, with Mom and me aboard, arrived at the ER around 11:30 p.m. Diamondqueen, who had followed in her van, joined us once Mom’s initial exam was over. One of the longest nights of my entire life began, as we waited for painkillers, for exams, for the drink Mom had to consume for the CAT scan, for an hour to pass after Mom drank the stuff, and on and on. They finally confirmed that Mom did have a kidney stone, but it was only about 2-3mm, too small to remove surgically. The ER sent us home with prescriptions for painkillers and antibiotics. We made it to bed around 7 a.m.

It would have been disappointing enough, since Mom wasn’t well enough to celebrate St. Nick that Sunday. We did exchange our gifts to each other, but gifts to and from the Hooligans were postponed and there was no get-together.  However, the stone wasn’t passing. Mom kept the pain at bay with regular ibuprofen until the second week, when she started becoming more miserable. When she had her appointment with the urologist, it turned out her stone was MUCH larger than we’d been told. They got her scheduled for the stone removal procedure, miraculously, before her doctor left for the holidays. She came out of it very well, and we even watched some holiday shows that Friday evening.

We thought it would soon all be over, since she’d be able to remove the stent herself on Monday. However, she went into spasms (which apparently are common), so that meant more pain and more painkillers. The urologist’s office confirmed that the discomfort could go on for weeks.

I guess we’re all spoiled and I have nothing to complain about in being able to even say this: But this was the first Christmas season ever where Mom wasn’t able to do a single thing with me and the Hooligans. I watched in disbelief as days, then weeks passed, and one outing after another passed by.

Mom assured me (and still assures me) that she doesn’t feel cheated – that in feeling so bad, she wouldn’t have wanted to do anything anyhow. I know there are plenty of women at 77 who would have had interrupted Christmas seasons before this. Again, I guess we’re all spoiled.

It was hard, though. And to see my mother suffering as she did on top of watching my father die last summer was just a little too much. And I don’t like one second, let alone a whole holiday season, being wasted at this point in my mother’s life. But, as she pointed out to me last night, she believes she still has some good Christmas seasons ahead of her.

And it hasn’t been all bad news. I had some very nice times with Diamondqueen and the Hooligans throughout December, especially a unique overnight at Great Wolf Lodge (a separate story entirely). Best of all, Mom says she woke up this morning thinking, “It’s Christmas Eve! My favorite day of the year!” And she says she really did enjoy the day. She worked up the energy this afternoon to bake the Christmas cookies she’s mixed up yesterdays, which left me with only small tasks, like finishing the few gifts that still needed to be wrapped, running to the grocery for store-bought treats to replace the savories Mom usually makes, and sweeping up a little.

And the evening party of snacks and gifts with the Hooligans and their parents was delightful. Everyone was in a good mood, even the store-bought dips and bread tasted good, no one fought, everyone seemed pleased with their gifts. We waved goodbye to the Hooligan van around 9:45 this evening with a feeling of real satisfaction with the day. In fact, Mom even said as we were tidying up that she felt better then than she had on many Christmas Eves because she wasn’t nearly as tired as when she was knocking herself out with the food and preparations, especially going back to the days when she was employed full time.

Being able to make  the best of any situation is a gift we should solicit from the Great Giver (however we view him) every Christmas. It’s not an easy gift to use, and some of us are better at enjoying that gift than others. This year, I’ve struggled as that gift got a workout. My brother-in-law had his heart valve surgery the week following his wife’s, Diamondqueen’s, birthday. My father had his stroke four days before my birthday, and he was in declining condition over his birthday and Father’s Day. We buried him two days before S.Hooligan’s birthday. How we managed to pull out all of the autumn holidays without tragedy,  I don’t know. If Mom had had her kidney stone a week earlier, Thanksgiving would have been destroyed (something she was pointing out, with relief, from the start of her ordeal).

I guess the second part of that gift of making the most is being able to look back and concentrate on what’s good instead of what went wrong. Yes, I would have liked things to be different this season. But Mom still enjoyed her favorite day and we were able to pull off a fine Christmas Eve. That’s what I’m concentrating on, and being grateful for, as the quiet night gives way to Christmas morning.

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UPDATE: Free cross-stitch patterns are no longer available on MyCraftivity.com.

I don’t always get around to blogging when I want to, so my reminders about the weekly free cross stitch pattern on MyCraftivity may not always be timely. Unless I’m on vacation or sick, the free project post should go up on the site in the evening on Mondays (with the previous week’s post getting un-linked about the same time); so if you’re interested, just set yourself a reminder to go have a look sometime during the week.

This week’s free project is very cool. It’s an Egyptian Eye of Horus pattern that can be used to make an eyeglasses case, or anything else you can come up with. Really interesting. Don’t miss it.
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After six and a half months, I can finally make the announcement I’ve been longing for: I delivered my kidney stone at last!!! I first mentioned in this post my New Year’s ordeal with this unexpected medical development. If I’d had any notion at the time that I’d just now be resolving this problem, I would have opted for the procedure the ER doc suggested on December 30! (“Or you can go home and just wait for it to pass” — I was thinking in terms of days, not months.)

Fortunately, I had a long spell over the winter when I wasn’t bothered by it at all. In fact, I’d assumed it was long gone. A CAT scan in the spring proved me wrong. Shortly after that, I started having these “problems.” Nothing as bad as that initial agony, but I’ve gotten more and more uncomfortable over the past eight weeks or so.

And now it’s over! The thing that stuns me most is I didn’t even feel it come out. And when I saw it, I thought it was too “huge” to be the stone. Then I measured it, and it was less than a centimeter. When it was first diagnosed, the stone was supposed to be 3cm. I guess those herbal supplements I took DID grind it down a bit; just not enough over the long haul.

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January is doldrums month for me. Even in childhood, I always struggled through the first month of the year. I’m sure some of it was the decompression after all the excitement and activity of the holiday season; and I always suspected I had a tendency toward seasonal affective disorder (i.e., reacting physically to the gloominess of the winter months).

Often I’d find myself actually rather enjoying being back in school those first days after Christmas break, and I didn’t long for the holiday season except for those first morning Masses where we were required to continue singing carols until January 6. There would come an unexpected moment, though, maybe on a empty, gray afternoon, when I’d suddenly feel myself dip as if something had grabbed me by the feet and pulled me down. I recall a specific Saturday when I was thirteen: I was at Grandma Martha’s house, she’d baked cookies (something she rarely did), we’d been listening to the radio, everything was pleasant. We had gone upstairs to the guest bedroom for some reason, and I’m not sure what happened. Suddenly my heart dropped like a rock. Maybe it was the dark, stark day outside the bedroom window. Maybe it was a chill in the poorly heated room, or the cold stiffness of the vinyl leatherette that upholstered the convertible sofa in the room. Something triggered a dull pang of discontent and sadness that had nothing to do with where I was or what I was doing (or with whom). It was simply a sudden awareness of January that seemed to fill my heart with lead.

I’m not one to wish my life away, and I do try to treasure every day. But I can’t say I’m sorry to be nearly two weeks into January 2008. It hasn’t been bad so far. Part of that may be due to the weather. Although we started out with frigid cold and snow immediately after New Year’s, we had springlike warmth this past week, even thunderstorms and a tornado watch. Not that thunderstorms and a tornado watch cheer me up, but it was certainly a distraction.

I’m also thrumming my fingers, waiting. Waiting for two situations to resolve themselves. One involves news regarding a job development, which is torturous in its glacial slowness. The other involves a health situation I would not have foreseen coping with just a month ago.

Over the weekend before New Year’s I started passing a kidney stone. I didn’t even know I had a kidney stone. I had some ambiguous signs right before Christmas, but I felt fine; and the signs could have pointed to several possible conditions.

The Friday after Christmas, though, at about 5:30 a.m., I awoke to searing pain. I knew immediately what it must be. Why? I had been reading up on kidney stones because my mother had been diagnosed with one weeks earlier. She was supposed to have gotten a call before Christmas to schedule a procedure to have her stone taken care of. The call didn’t come, and she let it go — because, like me, she felt fine and just wanted to get through Christmas without having to deal with doctors and health concerns.

Her kidney stone attack came the day after Christmas, in the evening. I took her to the emergency room, the CT scan showed an 11mm stone, they admitted her in the wee hours of the morning, she had a procedure to remove the stone, and she was back home that Thursday evening, worn out and hung over from what she’d been through but feeling lucky it hadn’t hit over the holiday. We were all very relieved.

Then I woke up next morning in the same fix. What are the odds? After two severe bouts of pain, I kept my discomfort down to a dull ache with ibuprofen and tried to tough it out. However, by late Saturday evening I was beginning to worry and decided to go to the ER. So there I was, same place, same reason, a mere 72 hours later. My CT scan showed a 5mm stone just outside the right kidney. I had the option of being admitted to have it removed or going home to let it pass on its own. I chose the latter. It hasn’t been that bad, but here I am two weeks later, still waiting for the little bugger to find the exit.

It’s easy to convince yourself that things will never be over, but they end eventually. One way or another, the work development will be resolved. And finally that stone is going to complete its slow route through my body. By then, there’ll be something else to worry about or anticipate. At least, so far, the first month of 2008 hasn’t grabbed me by the feet and yanked me under. If it takes job insecurity, kidney stones, and thunderstorms to accomplish that, so be it.

NOTE: No, I haven’t put myself on a pedestal. The angel above is an altered image from a digital photo I took at a local cemetery last October. She (he?) captures my current mental state so perfectly I couldn’t resist her/him as an icon of my month so far.

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