Saturday, May 22, 2010

Day 11.

Why is it, when there are 3 people putting the ECG stickers on people, one of whom is, say, a plump matron who could be someone’s beloved grandmother, one a loud woman with really long fingernails, and one a handsome young man with nice arms and a wicked smile, I never get the handsome young man? Is it wrong to want the cute boy to put the stickers on my chest once or twice?

One of the techs last night was saying that they have an easy job. He feels like he gets paid to socialize. It is kind of impressive how they're usually cheerful and relaxed and seem to enjoy each other’s company. But they don’t just socialize; they have to be skilled. They move from task to task, doing blood draws, glucometer readings, ECGs, urine collection, vital signs, and all the various auxiliary tasks involved in those procedures. And because everything is timed so precisely, they have to stay very focused and alert. They don’t ever seem really rushed, but they have to keep a steady, brisk pace. It’s not brain surgery, but it takes some skills.

The skill we as subjects notice most, of course, is the ability to do things like the blood draws and finger sticks painlessly -- well, the finger sticks always hurt, but sometimes they hurt more. I’ve noticed that the techs who are socializing the most, laughing and joking with their co-workers or embroiled in an intense conversation about someone’s obnoxious roommate or new boyfriend while they’re sticking a piece of sharp metal into your body, are the ones who make it hurt.

Spaghetti again last night -- third time. It’s not so bad. The pasta is overcooked, but the sauce isn’t terrible. To be honest, though, it’s all crap and I’m beyond caring which crap it is. They woke us in the middle of the night last night for a procedure and then again before 6 to start the whole song and dance again. I feel like Karen Quinlan today. Somebody pull the plug.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Day 10.

A rare steak, a real Caesar salad, and a beer. That’s what I want when I get out. People have asked, and that’s the answer.

And things I can’t wait to do: trim my toenails and fingernails, and shave.

A new study started last night. Gray t-shirts. All men, about 15 of them; half of them look like college kids with their Justin Bieber haircuts and basketball skorts. Ever since they arrived, there’s been urine splashed all over the walls and floors around the urinals. What is it with men who pee all over the place? Do they have no control, or do they just not care?

I’ve done quite a bit of reading since I’ve been here, but not as much writing as I’d hoped. I’ve made a lot of notes and I’ve done a lot of mental work on the high school diary project, but I had planned to dive into the text and edit a draft. This afternoon, the cute 25-year-old boy 3 beds down, who is into bodybuilding and art, asked me what I was working on. (I don’t mix much. I spend any free time we have with my books and computer, not running around with a group watching movies or playing games or chatting chatting chatting, and I guess it’s obvious because people keep asking, “what you are doing?” “Trying to ignore you, why do you ask?”) I was looking at Facebook when he asked, but I said, “I’m working on a couple projects.” He said, “What projects.” (It’s not like anyone is in a hurry; I suppose if you want to draw somebody out, you’ve got plenty of time.) I said I was working on a script for a short film. He was impressed and intrigued. He said that his brother had wanted to go to film school but their parents had forbid it and made him go to Texas A&M instead. That broke my heart. We had a nice short conversation and he wished me “good luck with that.”

So, of course, I spent the rest of the afternoon working on the script like crazy because I don’t want this kid to catch me on Facebook when he thinks I’m a big fancy screenwriter. A little attention from a cute young man is what it takes to get me motivated. Pathetic.

Today is wild. Starting with urine collection at 6 and ending with a blood draw after 2 a.m., we’re doing ECGs, glucometer readings, blood draws, and vitals signs all day long. I don’t mind so much that it’s hectic; it makes the day go faster. I don’t like wearing the ECG pads all day. They chafe and make me itch like crazy, and when I pull them off at night they pull a layer of skin with them.

We hate the new gray shirts, coming in here for their little sissy-ass 5-day study, pissing all over the bathroom floor. We hate them.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Day 9.

To follow up the nasty breakfast, for lunch we had the worst hamburger in the world. I assume it was meat -- but it was so overcooked, desiccated, and cold that it was impossible to tell. Undercooked, soggy tater tots on the side, and a small bowl of baked beans. Everyone -- the people who’ve done these studies before, which seems to be about 75% of us -- looks forward to “burger day.” I must be such a snob because it seems psychotic to me to think that something so foul tastes good.

Maybe it’s not about taste, maybe the excitement is about familiarity. Most people eat a lot of fast food; they probably just miss hamburgers. I keep thinking that this food must be pretty close to what “regular Americans” eat every day, so to them it’s not unusually bad. Most of the food-related conversation here is along the lines of, “I don’t like pork chops,” or “I love lasagna,” as if that hockey puck is a pork chop or that mound of pink glue is lasagna.

I guess because the food is so starchy and sweet I feel gassy and bloated all the time. My wardmates were talking tonight about how they’ve lost weight here, which surprised me because I feel like I’m gaining weight. But the food only seems fatty. There’s lots of globby, gross stuff, but it’s all fake and fat-free. I probably have more fat in my regular diet, from the real dairy products I eat. But at home I get fresh vegetables and whole grains, which somehow make my diet feel lighter. Anyway, because everyone was talking about it and weighing themselves, I stepped on the scale and found that I weigh 192! Jesus. My body has completely changed since my accident a year ago because I stopped exercising. I’ve lost all the muscle mass I gained when I started lifting weights, and now I see that I’ve put on 15 pounds.

A conversation last night about sagging pants. Snort says he battles with his teenage sons about it.

He said, “The last time I wore saggy pants, my father hit me so hard I hit the floor and busted my lip.”

Chatty: Mm-hm, I’m glad he did.

Snort: And he said, ‘See, that’s why you shouldn’t be wearing them jeans, ‘cause you can’t keep your balance.’

(General laughter at the table.)

Chatty: That is so cute. (Shakes her head.) Mm-mm-mm.

I think, I am so far out of my element, y’know, class-wise, culture-wise. But, then again, my parents beat me, too. But I didn’t think, and didn’t grow up to believe, that it was right, or effective, or funny.

The drug trial protocols usually (always?) require periods of 5 or 10 minutes of lying perfectly still on your back before procedures such as ECGs or vital signs, which I imagine is to reduce the effects of activity on your body function. This is happening constantly, probably more than anything else around here, and it’s crucial that these periods of lying supine start on time because everything that happens after them depends on it, and any glitch can cause a train wreck in the schedule So the word “supine” is thrown around constantly. It’s a noun: (Your supine starts at 14:17), both an intransitive verb: (Tech to a subject: You need to supine now) and a transitive verb: (Tech to another tech: Will you supine her?), and even sometimes as an old-fashioned adjective: (You're supposed to be supine), each use perfectly clear and efficient. The English language is amazing.

I applied for 3 jobs last night, all part-time clerical jobs in the Austin Public Libraries. I read an article in the Times the other day that said that the job market for teachers is worse than it has been since the Depression, so I’m not holding much hope for that scheme any more.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Day 8.

By the way, the identical meals story was just an ugly rumor. We had biscuits and gravy for breakfast yesterday, taco salad for lunch, and lasagnlue for dinner.

Shortly after breakfast yesterday, not long after our confrontation, I caught Jesus Snort (I feel bad using jokey nicknames now that I’m getting to know these people a bit more) as he was walking by my bed and said, “Hey, I’m sorry I reacted sarcastically earlier, but can I tell you why I was offended?” And he sat down and I tried to explain how my ears had pricked up when I heard the gay prison joke in the same way that his ears might prick up if he’d heard me making a joke about black people and watermelon, that the joke reinforces the stereotype of gay man as sexual predator, etc. He said he understood, and then he shared a very poignant story about his childhood and some gay people in his life. He said, “I don’t have any problems with gay people. I don’t judge anyone in that lifestyle. My faith tells me not to.”

I almost started the conversation about how referring to an essential, immutable aspect of a person’s being as a “lifestyle” is insulting or at least ignorant. But I let it go for the time being. We had had our moment, and I wanted to leave it at that. For the time being.

The guy is a pretty interesting character. He had a religious conversation experience in prison (heard the voice of god, read the Bible cover to cover, the whole 9 yards) and when he got out devoted his life to taking care of homeless people, drug-addicts, and other cast-offs. He owns and operates some kind of boarding house for these people now.

(As an aside, I want to say that I’m hesitant to criticize the type of conversion story he tells, because it’s essentially the same story that I tell about how I discovered Buddhism and began meditating. The thing that I happened to discover was very very different, but the basic narrative is the same: I was at a low point, nothing I was doing made sense, all my tactics, all my tricks, all the things I’d learned to do to avoid pain, none of it worked any more, and in fact only brought me more pain, I felt sad and desperate. By some kind of serendipity, two books, one by Thich Nhat Hahn and one by Pema Chodron, landed in my lap, and their words -- because the circumstances of my life and my emotional state aligned to allow me to understand them with complete clarity -- changed my mind and heart forever. I didn’t hear any voices, but it was still pretty dramatic. I call it a conversion experience, absolutely. I’m different now. I live my life differently, and I believe I am essentially different from who I was before that experience. So.)

This morning we had the most disgusting breakfast. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t get any worse. Powdered eggs with orange "cheese" melted over them. An English muffin that may have been toasted, but not enough to change its color and soggy from condensation because the plate sits under a plastic cover until they serve it. Skim milk. Why powdered eggs? Why even do that? The hard-boiled egg was, well, hard, but at least it was real. Why not serve that again? And why serve toast that’s going to sit covered and get wet? If you have that limitation, why not serve something with the same nutrition but that will hold up, or do better, by being covered? Grits, maybe, or oatmeal. But if they did grits or oatmeal, it would probably be some kind of instant nastiness.

There was a little less Bible talk yesterday. But, rest assured Bible Guy is a real Renaissance man. He can speak with confidence on the history of snack foods, he knows how to tell real homeless people from hustlers, and he’s an expert on the care and feeding of house cats. And he’s glad to share his knowledge. At length.

Have you ever heard of a card game called Spoons? They’re playing it in the next room. I think it involves cards and spoons, and, apparently, screaming. Unless somebody is getting murdered or tickled really hard.

We are halfway through the study now. I have red itchy circles, or more like rings, on my torso from the ECG pads, and my fingertips are sore, but otherwise I’m surviving.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Day 7.

I forgot the best story of the day in yesterday’s post. After I brushed my teeth the night before last, as I was rinsing off my toothbrush, I dropped it in the sink. I was a little grossed out because it’s a public sink, but I thought, It’s just water and my own toothpaste spit, it’s no big deal. So I picked up the toothbrush, and on the end of it, tangled up in the bristles, there was a big clump of hair! Aaaaaa!!! I pulled the hair off (which was not as easy as one might hope) washed the toothbrush thoroughly with soap and rinsed it forEVER but I still can’t stop thinking about it. I retched a little when I put it in my mouth the next morning.

There were rumors all day yesterday which were confirmed after dinner -- and believe you me the red t-shirts were aghast and then disconsolate as the news spread throughout the floor -- that, because we are dosing every day for the next 6 days, we are also having the same meals every day for the next 6 days. I’m not sure what the fuss is about, but there’s not much to do here except fuss. Lunch was okay (tuna salad on a croissant, chicken noodle soup, potato chips) and dinner was fine (King Ranch Casserole -- it’s one of those things that only exist in Texas, like "Texas Caviar" (it's bean salad made with black-eyed peas) and “queso” (pronounced “kay-so,” it’s some kind of cheese dip), and which Texans simply can’t get their heads around the idea that someone might not know what it is -- and a piece of sheet cake that was tasty, moist with an orange-flavored icing). Even breakfast could have been worse (hard boiled egg, Cheerios, and a bagel -- okay, the bagel was nasty and came with fat-free cream cheese; it was like eating a sneaker -- but everything else was perfectly edible). It could have been worse. Much worse.

This morning at breakfast, I came in on the middle of a conversation about prison conditions, the kind of topic I try to stay the hell away from in this place. The consensus at the table was that American prisoners are coddled because we're too concerned about their (big air quotes) "human rights." No issue is very complicated with these people. My neighbor, the one who snorts in the morning and talks about Jesus all day long (he's 32 I think he said, has 4 children, two of them 15 year old boys), talked about how he knew guys who deliberately tried to get prison sentences. He said, "You must be gay if you want to go to prison, just so you can look at naked men all day." He went on to share an anecdote from his time in prison, I can't remember the details but some woman who was on the staff at the prison was treating him badly in some way when he'd done nothing to provoke it. I took a deep breath and said, "Maybe she was angry because you were making snide remarks about gay people." My voice was quavering, and he said, "What?" I repeated, "Maybe she was angry because you were making snide remarks about gay people." He said, "I wasn't making snide remarks, I just said you'd have to be gay if you want to look at naked men all day."

Someone else at the table picked up the conversation without missing a beat, totally ignoring our exchange, and I went back to my silent breakfast. A moment later, when the person who was sitting between us had gotten up and left, Jesus Snort turned to me and said, "If I offended you in any way, I'm terribly sorry." I heard him, but I said, "What?" I think probably just to hear him say it again. I nodded.

I wanted to have a conversation about why his remark was offensive, but I didn't trust myself not to choke up or start crying or something. I hate that. All the performing and public speaking I've done, with fairly minimal nervousness, I still can't confront someone who disagrees with me without feeling almost paralyzing anxiety. I'll try to catch him later when I've rehearsed a few sentences to get started -- because I want to explain and because I want to apologize for being sarcastic.

God dammit. This is exactly the kind of thing I try so hard to avoid here.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Day 6.

The bathroom is the Urine Collection Station. Just outside the door into the john, there’s a counter and behind it sits a technician wearing a gown and latex gloves. Some studies involve urine collection, but not all of them. Our study required it the first few days, but we just had to pee in a cup once, first thing in the morning. Some studies involve collecting all your urine in a plastic container, so every time you pee, you have to stop at the counter, hold out your wrist to have your bar code scanned and then wait for the tech to grab your "urinal" (it's just a plastic container) from the shelf where they are all lined up and hand it to you.

So the tech has to watch everyone as they pass, and stop the subjects whose t-shirt color signifies they are in the study that requires urine collection. If they are wearing a t-shirt that doesn’t require it, then the tech has to buzz the bathroom door open.

Here’s where the comedy comes in. This urine vestibule is dimly lit with yellow light (I know! it’s like pee world back there) so the red t-shirts, the orange t-shirts, and the fuchsia t-shirts are indistinguishable. I think it’s the orange study right now that is collecting urine, and it’s a small study so the urine tech should have it pretty easy, but the red study is huge, maybe 30 subjects, and there’s the fuchsia study too, so the tech is going crazy back there, stopping everyone, staring at t-shirts to try to discern colors, trying to remember who is who, and everybody getting all indignant. From what I infer by listening to shop talk around here, urine duty is bottom of the totem pole, so to add this additional humiliation is a cruel joke.

Today we started with the glucometer readings, which require being stuck in the fingertip with a needle. It hurts. And they're going to do it 5 times a day for the next 10 days. I'd much rather they take it intravenously.

I can't decide whether to call my talkative neighbor Chatty or Exclamatia -- she repeats almost everything she says as a sort of outraged exclamation, as if to say Do you believe it?? ("I like my toast burnt. Black! Like this table! I'm talkin' 'bout burn that toast!!") in a Louisiana accent.

She and the guy in the bed between us were talking this morning and I eavesdropped on bits of the conversation. (I say eavesdropped, but they're 5 feet away from me. You have to put in earplugs if you don't want to hear people's conversations. And I do.) The guy was telling Chatty that a lesbian couple, neighbors or friends of his, had asked him to be their sperm donor -- they were planning on having a baby. He said that he thought about it but declined because he didn't want to be entangled in their lives and the life of a child that he wasn't going to raise. He and Chatty went on to debate whether or not it was a good idea for same-sex couples to raise children. They were both concerned about the stigma the child would have to deal with. They concluded the conversation agreeing that they didn't know exactly how to feel about homosexuals but that "nobody's perfect, and who am I to judge?"

That's the thing about the closet. When you get out of the liberal/artsy/lefty ghetto, you overhear people debating, right in front of you, whether or not you have a right to exist. It's amazing to me, has been since I was 14 years old, how people like this assume there is no one homosexual in the room, when they're in a room full of people. The only shift I see in this conversation is that 30 years ago the attitude was almost always more scornful. Now, something along the lines of "Everybody's got a right to their opinion" is more typical. Everybody's got a right to their opinion regarding whether or not I have a right to exist. Sweet.

Speaking of which, I miss my boyfriend like a motherfucker.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Day 5.

I look forward to meals here, everyone does, because, even though the food is usually foul, meals mark the passing of the day. Breakfast this morning was cereal and a muffin again, but we got 2% milk, which was nice. Skim milk is nasty shit. I don’t understand the point of it.

Not much on the schedule today. We got to sleep in until almost 7. They took our blood pressure this morning and drew blood after breakfast, but no ECG or urine collection, and there’s nothing else today but meals. Tomorrow we start what looks like a real marathon until the end.

The Bible study debate went on until after midnight last night. These two are hard core. The debate last night was about whether or not the Bible is actually the word of “God.” Bible Guy took a more scholarly view than Church Lady. I can’t get a fix on his beliefs, but he was telling Church Lady that some parts of the Bible were perhaps more spiritually inspired than others, and Church Lady was not having it. She kept giggling and saying, “You don’t really believe that? No, you don’t! You’re crazy.” Giggle, giggle.

I assumed that he was the more reasonable and sane of the two, but then he started talking about how there were already people on the earth when God created Adam and Eve, which accounts for the fossil evidence. So, there are people living now who are from Adam and Eve’s lineage and people who are not. Step away quietly.

This place is totally sci-fi. Rows of identical beds, everything sterile and white. The staff wear scrubs and lab coats. There are always several studies going on simultaneously, so we wear color-coded t-shirts. I'm in the red t-shirt study. Subjects also wear wristbands with bar codes that identify us, and we carry clipboards everywhere we go which detail our scheduled procedures. There are big red digital clocks on military time, and everything is timed to the second, every ECG, every meal, every blood draw. The technicians go down the rows of beds with carts and machines, sticking pads on our chests and legs, hooking us up to machines, sticking needles in our arms, each subject 3 minutes after the last one. It’s a hive of activity and high-tech beeping monitors that moves up and down the row of beds several times a day. And they rush the little vials of our blood away in frozen containers and write numbers on our clipboards.

There are features of the architecture that resemble a hospital, but it never feels like a hospital at all. There are doctors here somewhere, but not the kind of doctors who take care of people. It’s a lab and we are lab rats.

The first few days here, I was pretty miserable. I got a severe headache from caffeine withdrawal, which I expected because it always happens, but I expected it on the first day. When it didn’t happen then, I was very relieved. It just waited a day. Then when the headache was receding, I started feeling intense deep pain in my lower back and hips. I couldn’t find a way to sit or lie down that didn’t hurt, and the second night was awful. I hardly slept. I’m almost certain it was from the bed and spending so much time in it.

I feel much better now, and I spend most of my free time in bed reading. I finished The Celluloid Closet and I’m trying to plow through Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Film History textbook. It’s the perfect kind of book for this place. I’ve done a little work on my high school diary project, taken a few notes. The piece is taking some kind of general shape in my head.