Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Problem with Making Teachers into Heroes

I would be lying if I said that I don't get chills (the good kind) every time I watch the scene in Dead Poets Society where the students stand up in defiance of their institution's rigid rules and recognize their instructor's unique greatness. The testament to the immense impact he's had on their lives in such a short period of time is moving. "That's the kind of teacher I want to be," I tell myself. And I mean it.

Teachers are, by and large, a group of people who care deeply about their work, and it is incredibly rewarding work. The societal portrayal of teaching as a "super power" is partly an attempt to recognize the difficulty of the task, partly a recognition of the passion with which it is usually pursued, and partly a concession prize for a job that can be thankless and financially undervalued.

The problem is that the narrative of teaching as a super hero's task undermines collaborative practices and efforts to make systemic change. We are fed the notion of the "good" teacher standing up to the "bad" system over and over and over again until it becomes ingrained within us.

Consider some of the most popular movies about the art of teaching.

The aforementioned Dead Poets Society sees an unconventional and passionate young instructor  instilling in his students the lessons of non-conformity, critical thinking, and questioning authority. He is fired for his efforts because the uptight private school will not tolerate the threat to their power that he represents, but that final scene tells us that it was worth it. He may have only touched a few minds, but he touched them deeply and permanently. Their lives are forever changed because he was there, and that is the point of it all.

It's a message that we get again and again.

In Stand and Deliver, Jaime Escalante gets a much-deserved biopic cataloguing his amazing ability to reach troubled high schoolers in a flailing district by completely overhauling the district's philosophy toward math. Instead of teaching a bunch of remedial math classes, Escalante insisted on holding students to rigorous standards, and it worked.

As the above clip demonstrates, he was met with intense structural barriers. His colleagues did not support him. He was alone in his fight, and the real-life Escalante faced disciplinary measures and threats of job loss for his passion and efforts. Once again we have a super hero fighting against a flawed system.

Freedom Writers is another one that fits the super hero bill. Hillary Swank plays the young, passionate Erin Gruwell. As this clip shows, a major part of the film is demonstrating the systemic racism of the education system and the racially-charged tensions permeating between teachers and students and among the students themselves.

Her teaching method was one based on respect for her students' experiences and distrust of the system and creating assignments that tackled those issues head-on. She, like the other teachers on this list, had to fight against administrative forces that saw her efforts as non-conformist and dangerous. The movie also depicts the added pressure as her countless hours of dedication to her job begin to conflict with her family life. Once again, all the pain and turmoil and loss is worth it because she is able to see real change in her students' performances and attitudes.

Dangerous Minds, Lean on Me, 187, School of Rock . . . again and again and again the narrative is reinforced. The be a good teacher, you have to be willing to withstand the forces against you on every side: the dangerous and apathetic students, the clueless and angry parents, the jaded and doubting colleagues, the money-hungry and autocratic administration, the doubting and mob-like public, and even your own family.

A good teacher does it alone. A good teacher does it in the face of adversity. A good teacher is a super hero.

The real-life Gruwell, though, only taught a few more years before leaving to found The Freedom Writers Foundation and attempt to make systemic changes to the educational landscape by leading workshops for faculty members and entering conversations about policy and administration. The lone super hero standing in front of the classroom was a temporary role because it is not a good place to make real, lasting change.

From a purely mathematical standpoint, no single teacher is going to make that big of a dent in the educational system through teaching alone. Even a prolific teacher only reaches a few thousand students during his or her tenure. When we are talking about millions of students matriculating through educational pipelines each year, that is barely a drop in the bucket.

We comfort ourselves through parables like the Starfish Story and watching movies like the ones above. We can make a real, measurable, sustainable difference in the lives of the students we teach, and so we can be a success.

It's not even that I don't believe that notion. I do, and I tell myself that story every day. I know that I make a difference in my students' lives, and if I didn't believe that, I would quit teaching. Just like the man throwing the single starfish back into the ocean, I know that it does matter to that one, and I will keep doing it because it is rewarding, powerful, meaningful work.


But what does the super hero narrative of teaching do to our collective ethos? If we are trained to see our students, our colleagues, and even our own family as adversaries in a noble fight, how long can we possibly expect to last?

Teacher attrition is a major (and costly) problem, and there are a barrage of articles from teachers who say they just can't do it anymore, many citing workload, administrators, and policy. Even those who stay within the profession write to lament the difficulties they face because of the students and the parents.

The more that I think about it, the more damaging I think the super hero narrative of teaching really is. I know that I would not be the teacher I am today without the collaboration and mentorship from my colleagues. Good teaching is often friendly theft. You won't possibly have enough time to try everything that could happen in a classroom for yourself, so you borrow from your colleagues and you make it your own. The super hero narrative doesn't leave much room for that practice, one that is absolutely necessary to creating quality instruction without running yourself ragged.

And what if the sense of adversity is validly earned but wrongly placed?

In my own field (composition studies), several scholars have posited that educational systems are largely designed to reinforce hegemonic power structures. Scholars like Ira Shor, Geneva Smitherman, Mina Shaughnessy, and Peter Elbow have all voiced concern about the gatekeeping function of composition classrooms and the way that power structures are maintained through educational institutions.

If it is true that education is used as a mechanism to reinforce and perpetuate hegemonic power structures, then the super hero narrative is a clever tool indeed. Teachers represent a tremendous force of empowered, passionate, highly educated individuals who are--for the most part--determined not to let that be the case. But if we are trained to see ourselves as an army of one fighting a war on multiple fronts, we will never realize the power and potential we have to bring a serious threat to that hegemony.

In short, the super hero narrative uses our real super power against us.

Friday, July 11, 2014

New Commenting Guidelines

I made some changes to my Disqus settings and I want to explain them really quickly.

When I first started blogging, no one knew who I was (and I blogged anonymously), so I had no comment guidelines. Then people started finding me, and I got some great conversations with amazing people. Then other people started finding me, and I got some horrible threats and cruel jabs, so I implemented a "I'll delete you if you're terrible" policy. 

Now, though, I don't really get much commenting action on the blog itself. Most of my conversations about my posts happen on my Facebook page or on Twitter. While I still occasionally get a real live person wanting to engage in a real live conversation in the blog comments, most of the time I do not. 

What I get instead are people posting as Anonymous who are clearly robots trying to spam for back links. I know this because they say things like "This blog great today. I learn a lot really penis pump. Male enhancement to give tomorrow is a big sunrise. Visit my site!" 

The other thing I get is people skimming through posts I wrote months or even years ago to leave hate comments and threaten my life. 

I've taken a two prong attack here. I've disabled the ability to post as a Guest. You now have to put in an email address to show you are, in fact, a real person. But that doesn't do anything against the hate comments. 

So if you want to write just to tell me that I'm "fat" (though I am pretty well acquainted with my own body) and an "ugly bitch" or that you hope that I "choke to death" or to say "kill yourself" or that you "hate" me, I will now see that comment before it goes live and decide if this is really the place for it. 

I love a good debate, and I am not afraid of people disagreeing with the things I say, but disagreeing with me and wishing that I die a horrible death (usually while very clearly not having read any of the things I actually wrote beyond the headline) are not really in the same ball park. 

I hope that this doesn't frustrate the commenting practice to the point that people who really do want to have a conversation are dissuaded, but it seems like comment sections (at least for me, on this site and others) aren't really the place where that intelligent conversation goes on anyway, so I also hope the loss is not too great.

Photo: Kevin Trotman

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Putting on Your Company Best: Do We Owe to Ourselves What We Give to Others?

It is very hard for me to clean my house. I don't just mean that it is hard because I don't like to do it (although, yes, that's true) or that it takes a lot of time (although, for the love of all that is holy, that's true, too). I mean that it is hard for me to clean my house because it requires a disposition that I can't easily call forth.

It's okay. It's this same disposition that makes it easy for me to do things like, say, grade papers. I hone in on papers with an eye to detail that is quick and discerning. I am able to oscillate back and forth between big picture (the student's argument) and tiny minutiae (a misplaced comma) without any difficulty. It's the way my brain wants to work if left to its own devices.

Those same habits of mind make housecleaning a nightmare.

I oscillate back and forth between big picture (a clean house) and small minutiae (this dirty spoon. Why is there a spoon in the bedroom? How long has it been here? Oh, man, is this from last week? Have I really left a dirty spoon in my bedroom since last week? That's shameful. Maybe we should stop bringing food upstairs. That'd be a good rule. We need more structure around here. It's especially important for my daughter to learn structure. Maybe I need a chore chart. I'll make one right now. Where are the markers? Oh, they're in the craft drawer. Oh my God! What else is in this craft drawer?! Is that . . . is that a jar of corroded batteries? Why in the world would I have that? Oh, what's this? A tube of super glue! I've been looking for that! I wanted to fix something. What was it? Oh! That broken light fixture. I should go do that . . .)

I think you can see why things don't go well.

Both because of the immensity of the task and because it's just generally inefficient, my house never really reaches that mythical level of "clean" that I hear people talk about like a unicorn or a good public school with open spots.

Instead, I tolerate a general level of clutter. Sure, there are times when the clutter gets to me, and then I swoop into action and clean it up, but most of the time, the cleaning is sparked not by a desire to make my own habitat more habitable but to give it the appearance that I think is expected.

That's why I read with interest this xoJane piece from the creator of Unfuck Your Habitat (the profanely and aptly named site full of cleaning tips that I have turned to for inspiration more than once).

The argument in this piece is that making a house "company ready" is an unfair idea. You deserve a house that's "you ready" and the standards should exist without the pressure of an external audience:
Listen, the bottom line is that other people do not deserve a better version of your home than you do. You’re the one who lives there. You’re the one looking at it all the time. You deserve to have it be a haven for you, not a source of stress or embarrassment.
The tips in this article are solid, and they'll have your house looking nicer and feeling more manageable, but I want to question this idea that you need to hold your internal expectations up to the ones from the outside.

The way I see it, my actions are sparked by two different kinds of motivations: centripetal motivations and centrifugal motivations.

Centripetal and Centrifugal Motivations

Centripetal motivations generate internally. They are the motivations I place upon myself. I am highly motivated by centripetal forces. I place internal pressures on myself that the external world largely does not care about at all. For instance, I have a hard time putting down a book that I started even if I don't like it. I have a self-imposed pressure to finish the book. No one else is going to care if I finish it. It's not like they'll even know. But I'll know, so I pressure myself to complete it.

Centrifugal motivations come from the outside. When we know that someone else will be judging us, we are operating under centrifugal motivations to live up to these external expectations. For instance, I am motivated to make sure my daughter's clothes match not because I care so deeply about it, but because I am afraid people will think I am negligent if I don't.

Essentially, this article is arguing that all motivations should be centripetal, originating from within.

I understand the inclination. Why should we bend ourselves beyond our own desires for other people? Centrifugal motivations have to them a feeling of manipulation, superficiality, or even oppression. Doing things that you don't want to do because other people want you to do them, especially as a grown person capable of making your own life choices, feels like a loss of freedom.

But the argument here is not to eschew the external pressure to clean your house. That article would be really short: "Don't clean your house." Instead, this argument is that you should take those centrifugal forces and somehow internalize them, switching the motivational origin so that it is coming from within.

I don't think that's a good idea.

Responsibility and the Collective

Western cultures are  highly individualistic, and America ranks the highest in this domain. But even within our individualistic culture, it's clear that we are social beings who depend upon one another to make meaning of the world around us.

Those centrifugal forces remind us of that collective responsibility and partnership. I attempt to meet cultural standards when I have an audience because I recognize that I'm playing many different roles throughout the day.

I don't think I "deserve" to hold my house up to those same standards of organization any more than I "deserve" to wear my work clothes while I'm watching TV on my couch. I'm not cheating myself out of my "best" self by pulling my hair into a pony tail and changing into pants with an elastic waistband. I'm accepting that, once the centrifugal forces are removed from the equation, I don't have much motivation to perform that particular role.

I suspect we all fall on a spectrum of where our primary motivations originate. I also suspect that I'd fall pretty heavily on the centripetal side. Most of my actions are done because I have an internal sense of responsibility and reward.

But when I get dressed for a meeting with my boss, when I put makeup on because I'm getting pictures taken, and--yes--when I clean my house before a guest comes over, I'm letting those external pressures shape me a little.

I don't want to pretend that they come from within because they don't. It's okay to recognize that I play different roles for different audiences. I don't have to pretend that everything I do is done for me and me alone because I'm part of a bigger whole.

So, please, give me an hour notice when you're coming over. I'll hide the overflowing laundry baskets in the closet, run the dishwasher, and stack the books on the kitchen table into a neat little pile. I don't do it for me; I do it for you. And that's okay.

Photo: Kent Landerholm

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Good, the Bad, and the Curious (Link Round Up!)

It's been a long time since I've done a link round up, so I won't possibly be able to catch up on everything, but here are some things I've read that made me smile (The Good), cry (The Bad), and think (The Curious).

The Good

These facts about The Princess Bride are great!

Who doesn't love a good double entendre?

Alysia Montano ran an 800-meter race while she was 34 weeks pregnant.

Did you see these park benches in Vancouver that have shelter for the homeless built into them?

This is how you breastfeed. Take notes.

The Bad

Predictably (but no less disappointingly), a slew of companies are now seeking birth control exemptions after the Hobby Lobby decision. Most interesting to me is Eden Foods, an organic food company that must not do market research because it seems their customer base is none too thrilled. (Here's a petition asking Whole Foods to stop carrying their line if you're none too thrilled, too.)

Jessica Valenti explains why the GOP should maybe stop nicknaming (and, ultimately, dismissing) single female voters after their newest label of "Beyonce voters":
Female voters in the US have been called "soccer moms" and "security moms". In 2004, single women were "Sex and the City voters". Now – because apparently women can't ever just be "citizens" or "voters", or more likely because conservatives prefer to call us names instead of delving too deep into women's issues – we are "BeyoncĂ© voters". Bow down, bitches.
There's a video of an ASU professor being thrown to the ground violently before her arrest . . . for jaywalking . . . when the crosswalk was blocked by construction.

This middle schooler invented a simple system to help ensure children are not forgotten in the backseat of cars. Then he gave careful directions for how to make it and distributed them free online.

All of this (yeah, it makes me laugh, but it makes me cry more):

The Curious

This post about parenting toddlers was a timely read for me as I am right in the thick of three-year-old emotional swings, fierce independence, and utter exhaustion:
If I could go back, I would say, relax. Tantrums, running away, accidents, lost belongings, mischievous nap times... it's all a normal part of toddler life. I wasn't making life harder than necessary. Raising two toddlers really is just that hard.
One more Hobby Lobby-related link. This one exploring the implications of corporate personhood:
That separation is what legal and business scholars call the "corporate veil," and it's fundamental to the entire operation. Now, thanks to the Hobby Lobby case, it's in question. By letting Hobby Lobby's owners assert their personal religious rights over an entire corporation, the Supreme Court has poked a major hole in the veil. In other words, if a company is not truly separate from its owners, the owners could be made responsible for its debts and other burdens.
Is income inequality about to turn into pitchforks?

Friday, June 20, 2014

How to (Literally) Balance It All: Being a Working Mom with a Broken Ankle

I picked the "best" time to break my ankle. I teach, and it's summer. I was completely off work the first two weeks of my injury, so I followed orders and basically did not move. But I was starting to get a little unhinged, so I was looking forward to getting back to work--even if the prospect of parenting, working, and commuting without being able to put down my left foot was a little terrifying.

My one summer class started, and I finished up the first week of classes today. I survived! So here are my tips for the literal balancing act:

The Practical 

For me, breaking a leg was getting expensive in a hurry, but there were some expenses I just couldn't see any way around. On the other hand, there were some quick fixes I used to cut costs where I could. Here's a list of what I had to buy and what I ended up making do.

  • Get a knee walker. If you have to be on your feet for any length of time or distance, crutches just aren't that practical of an option, especially since you can't carry much with them. Just waiting for the elevator on crutches would wear me out. I got this one, and it works well, doesn't tip over, turns easily, and isn't too heavy to get in and out of the car while balancing on one leg. You can rent them from some pharmacies, but--for me--the cost of renting for the 2-3 months I'll be needing it was the same as purchasing it outright, so I did that. 
  • Don't just depend on one mobility device. They do different things. The knee walker (or even just a regular walker) isn't going to get you up and down stairs. Crutches will. You can rent those cheaply at Walgreens or Target. 
  • Get a shower chair. Maybe you can make do with a plastic lawn chair, but my bathroom is tiny and awkwardly shaped, and having the grippy feet on the bottom of the legs leaves me with a little shred of security as I balance precariously with one trash bag-clad foot hanging over the edge of the tub. 
  • Do you remember in college how you'd put your booze in the freezer because it would get cold without actually freezing solid. Well, this tip uses all of the science and none of the fun. If you dump some rubbing alcohol in a ziploc bag with water and freeze it, you'll have a nice, malleable ice pack that lasts a long time. Double bag it. There's a recipe here, but I just dumped some in, probably 3:1 water to alcohol, and it works great. 
  • For some reason, I've been hoarding the buckets my cat litter comes in, feeling that they had a utility that I had not yet discovered. Well, I was right! A Tidy Cats bucket with a towel on top is the perfect height for me to put my knee on and voila! Now I can stand at the bathroom counter and dry my hair without striking a flamingo pose. I can make dinner, put up dishes, or just take a few seconds to rest when I'm on crutches around the house. 
  • Make use of small baskets to keep the things you need the most near the bed/chair where you spend most of your time. Put chap stick, lotion, the remote controls, medicine, a hair brush, deodorant, etc. in it. You don't want to have to get up as soon as you've settled in with a properly elevated leg and an ice pack. 
  • Leash your kid. My husband has been doing all of the daycare drop-offs and pick-ups, which is exhausting for him and my daughter, who now has to stay at school three or four hours longer than she usually does. In order to safely be able to walk with her while I'm on crutches and can't hold her hand, I bought one of those backpack leash things that I always swore I'd never use. Now is not the time to hold stubbornly onto the image of the parent you thought you'd be. 
  • Use backpacks. You can't carry things on crutches. Some people have successfully created little pockets on them, but I am not crafty and I am clumsy, so I prefer backpacks. I moved the contents of my purse to the front pocket of a backpack so that I have everything I need with me in one place when I get to my office. Then I put one of those little drawstring backpacks into the bigger backpack so that I can take just what I need during the day. 
The Philosophical
  • Give yourself a break. I went from taking my daughter to the park several times a week to sitting on the couch watching My Little Ponies with her. I went from cooking homemade meals every day to eating Qdoba takeout. I went from standing during my entire two hour class, walking around and checking in on my students individually to spending most of it sitting at the front of the classroom. I went from running several miles a week, going to roller derby practice twice a week, and squatting 150 pounds to lifting 5-pound dumbbells while I sat in bed. And every single one of those things felt like a defeat. But while staring down three to five months of recovery sounds like an eternity today, it really isn't. This is a slice of time that will fade into the background of a large, rich life. Give yourself a break. 
  • Find ways to be productive. I could have gotten someone else to teach my summer class because I was injured before it started, but I could not bear the thought of doing nothing for six more weeks. It was taking a toll on me emotionally. I was sleeping all day, crying at random intervals, and generally sitting around in a pool of self-pity and dread. That's not a good recipe for healing. Getting back into the classroom gave me something to focus on other than my leg and the fact that I was sitting still all day long. It forced me to figure out how to get out of the house on my own. It forced me to get up and get dressed every day instead of staying in the same pajamas for 48 hours. Yes, this is a time to take it easy and (as mentioned above) give yourself a break, but--for me--I need some structure and busyness or I melt down. 
  • Accept help. If someone asks what they can do to help, don't reply with "oh, I'm fine." Ask them to pick up groceries, bring by a meal, take out the trash, do a load of laundry. These little, daily necessities will pile up fast and what feels like vengefully. If you can afford it, this would be a great time to hire a cleaning service to come in once every couple weeks.
  • Plan everything. You know how when you leave for work you have to run upstairs six times because you took your phone but not the charger and you remembered your gym shoes but not your socks and you left the hallway light on and then you remembered that you need the book on the bedside table? When "running back upstairs" means "crab crawling up the stairs," there is a lot less room for error. Plan. Everything. Think through all of the steps of a successful day and make sure you have everything you need in place. If you're going to the shower, forgetting to bring something and only realizing it after your foot is wrapped in plastic and you're perched naked on the shower chair is maddening. Check then double check. Pretend your life is a game of Diner Dash where you have to time everything out in the right order. Make it a logic puzzle. 
  • Give your kid a break. My injury coincided with the start of a new preschool for my daughter. I broke my ankle the day before she started. The changes were all too much for her, and she has had multiple tantrums a day for the duration of my recovery. I've been exasperated. But someone mentioned to me her perspective as a three-year-old. Suddenly, many of the adults in her life were either new (the new teachers) or incapable of doing the things they normally did (me). She is feeling insecure and untrusting, and that manifests itself as acting out and tantrums, a way to test boundaries and make sure she is still safe. In fact, children with injured parents are susceptible to PTSD. So while, yes, an hour-long meltdown over the fact that her hot dog is "torn" is absolutely maddening, I need to give her a break, too. And I'm trying really hard to point out to her the things I can do instead of bemoaning the ones I can't in front of her. (I'll save my pity parties for when she's at school.)
So that's how I'm balancing motherhood, teaching, and having a broken ankle. Do you have any tips? Have you found having an injury while parenting to take an emotional toll on your kid? What helped?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Not Anti-Medicine, Just Pro-Human

The hospital where I had my ankle surgery performed is known for its crowded emergency room, long wait times, and overall busyness. It is also known for its competence and success in medicine. I am lucky to have had access to it, and I know from growing up in a rural area where top-of-the-line care was often a long ways away that it isn't that way for everyone.

Still, that busyness brings out some less savory elements of medical care as well including a depersonalization and almost factory-like precision that leaves someone (me) feeling less like a human being and more like a piece of meat being inspected before preparation for dinner.

While (by my rough estimate made while trying to sleep after getting into the ER at 8pm and finally admitted to a room at 5am) there were 11,000 people in the room per hour (expertly timed to only enter when your eyes close), none of them seemed able or willing to give me any information about what was actually happening to me. For instance, someone came in to get my dinner order long after a different someone had told me I was being discharged by noon, and that second someone told me I could have lunch while a different someone told me that the doctors "forgot" to remove the order that I couldn't eat, so I missed it. The noon discharge time came and went. Another someone came and took my insurance information while a different someone brought me my prescriptions, charged to an insurance account that didn't exist, a problem I thought I had cleared up hours before with the first someone. Another someone came and checked my vitals followed by a different someone checking my vitals about 12.3 minutes later before she would give me any pain meds, which happened to be the pain meds I hate the most and begged for an alternative but wasn't given.

It all felt, to be honest, like when I worked at McDonald's in high school. The McDonald's business model consisted of breaking down even the simplest task into tiny, tiny pieces and letting each employee have only a minuscule number of tasks assigned to him/her. They turned us, basically, into machines. I could not, for instance, put the ketchup on the buns because I'd only be "trained" (hahahahaha) to put the meat patties on the buns and might therefore put the wrong amount of ketchup and doom the entire company.

That's what it felt like with all of these medical professionals. Each one had an area in which he or she was competent (I do believe they were each competent in their own tasks, and most of them were kind, which I appreciate immensely), but they weren't able to connect with one another, and so there was an endless assembly line of Rube Goldberg proportions, and I was the product in the middle, tinkered with endlessly and (too often) pointlessly.

I never met the surgeon who actually performed my surgery. He came in the room after I was knocked out and left before I awoke. I have no idea how many plates and screws are in my leg, and I have no idea where or how large the incisions are because I haven't seen them beneath the splint--a splint that will be removed a week later than my discharge papers say because they had no openings at the office. I don't even know if my tattoo is still legible because it almost certainly got sliced. 

It's not that I expect them to stop mid-surgery in what I know is a busy day of saving people's lives, ankles, and health and take pictures of my tattoo, but damn, I am still a person, right?  

In fact, the only time I felt like someone was really paying attention to me was when I was being upsold a nerve block the way they try to sell you gap insurance when you buy a car. Those people looked me in the eye, called me by name, and were generally personable. After listening to them do the same to everyone else in the prep ward around me, I figured out that it was because they were salespeople. (I said yes to the thing but then got wheeled out of the operating room before they did it and upon waking without any pain decided I didn't really need it anyway.)

The thing that aggravates me the most is the pain med situation. 

I can't take Percocet without turning into a ball of crying mush. I hate it. That's all they'd give me in the hospital, even though I had a bottle of Vicodin that I got from filling a prescription from the very same hospital staff while awaiting my surgery at home. So, twice, I had to take Percocet, and twice it made me cry in front of strangers, and twice I felt small and vulnerable and panicked. 

But even small, vulnerable, and panicked, I told everyone who would listen (including people I'm sure had nothing to do with prescribing medication) that I didn't want to go home with a bunch of narcotics. I'd take them as long as the pain was horrendous, but as soon as it fell down to say, merely terrible, I'd really like something non-narctoic please and thank you. I was always polite, but I was always clear: I do not want to be on narcotics. Please give me prescriptions that allow me to get off of them as fast as possible. 

I went home happy that they had listened, armed with two prescriptions, one for Vicodin, and one for a little green pill they assured me was a non-narcotic pain pill. I made it clear that I planned to switch to those alone as soon as I could. 

Then I looked at the bottles. The Vicodin came with two refills good for six months. The other pill came with no refills. Sigh. I began to feel like maybe they weren't really listening to me. 

I stopped taking the Vicodin two days after the surgery and just took the other pill. It didn't seem to be doing much, so I Googled it to figure out if I just needed more Vicodin or what.  

I was livid. 

It's not even for pain. Its primary use is as an anxiety med that is prescribed alongside narcotics to make them work better. In other words, it was only meant as a sidecar to Vicodin, a sidecar I was supposed to drop while I continued popping narcotics for several more months despite my very clear and incessantly repeated wishes that I not be on them. 

I bought some extra strength Tylenol. I manage. 

But I have some trust issues now. 

Much like this skeptical dog. 
Maybe my dislike of narcotics is a little silly. It is based from a two-fold set of concerns. First, I hate the way they make me feel. I don't like fuzzy thoughts, drowsiness, and slow reaction times. I feel out of control and not myself. I don't want to feel like that. Secondly, I have seen several people whose lives were very negatively impacted by an addiction to pain pills that started during a routine injury. I want no part of that.

But whether my fear is justified or not, it's my body. I should have the right to say what goes in it whether it is silly or not. I should not be, as I feel like I was, placated like a child and prescribed things without anyone actually listening to what I was saying. 

I have been lucky enough to have good health and therefore very little experiences with Big Medicine, but the limited experiences I have had have not been good. Fighting for the right to give birth without being medicated into immobility and set up for months of unwanted narcotic use don't make me feel like the medical industry is on my side as a human being. 

I'm so very, very grateful that the technology exists to put my ankle back together. I am so very, very grateful to have access to people who know how to use that technology and to have the insurance to pay for it. 

But I sure wish I could still feel like a person while it happened.
Photo: James Yu, JaconYarboroughPhotography

Friday, June 13, 2014

Broken Ankles, Roller Derby, Running, and The Age of Information: A Collection of Links

I'm a child of the Age of Information. My doctor didn't . . . how do I put this? He didn't give me a lot of information about my recovery. In fact, I'm not even sure I used the right pronoun back there (though I'm not just assuming he's male; I heard someone else say "he"). I never met him. I'm assuming he was there sometime after I got knocked out for surgery and left sometime before I woke up. I met some of his students, and they all seemed competent. In fact, everyone seemed perfectly competent, but no one really wanted to explain anything (I don't even know how many screws are in my leg or where the incisions are), and I wasn't in much of a position (coming out of anesthesia) to push the point.

So, you send home an information junkie with her first broken bone armed only with some very general discharge papers (which I read 67 times) and metal plates in her leg and then tell her she can't stand up for weeks, leaving her alone with a computer, misery, and curiosity. What's going to happen? She's going to Google. That's what.

The thing I have been most concerned about is if/when/how I will recover and return to running and roller derby, the two athletic pursuits that have become a core part of me and that I really, really enjoy (and that I'm now suspecting may have been my homeopathic way to combat some depression and anxiety).

The internet, though, is a mean, mean place. Most of what I've found is either sponsored content written to try to sell knee scooters (I already bought one! Leave me alone!) or long message board threads of other people talking about how they still can't walk a year later and their lives are ruined or how the metal plates in their legs will literally eat them from the inside if they try to run.

Mostly so that I can have the links in one handy place but also so that anyone else looking for this can find them easily, here's what I've found that was positive and helpful:
  • Gin and Fishnets is a blog about derby, and the author broke her ankle (in a break eerily similar to my own) back in May 2013. She has some posts on it that mostly serve as "hey, you're not alone" comfort, but also have some hints and tips. The most helpful post to me was one about overcoming "The Fear," which I can already feel creeping into my mind. 
  • Pynk Fitness has a post entitled "There is Life after ORIF" which is also roller derby-specific and has amazing tips about how to recover well. It's practical, inspirational, and informational. 
  • Livestrong has a couple articles about workouts to try when you have a broken ankle. Here's one for chair cardio and here's another for strengthening moves
  • Here's another (not derby-specific) story of injury and recovery from the blog Bear to Bruin. There's a pretty amazing story at the end about the author bonding with another gym-goer over their surgery scars. 
  • Here's a site called Derby Hurts that's a place for the injured derby girls to console one another. 
That's what I've got so far. Hopefully if a broken ankle brought you to this page, you are recovering well and keeping a positive outlook. Good luck!