Month: March 2006

Take good care of yourself, you belong to you


An acting teacher of mine used to get very frustrated with our class from time to time. Since he’d studied under legendary sonofabitch Lee Strasberg, he was very comfortable expressing this frustration, especially in the form of yelling and screaming.

One day, having hit his limit with some slacker inanity or another, actors showing up without the props they needed for their scenes, actors not showing up at all, he launched into us about hard work and commitment. About how we didn’t have any, and about how we were kidding ourselves if we thought we were going to slack our way to any kind of real acting talent or real acting career without Doing The Work. And then, lighting on my trembling face, he said: “Of course, those of you who need to hear this won’t…and those of you who are already doing all this are beating yourselves up for not doing enough.”

My shrink had to give me a refresher course in this yesterday. For some reason, my response to being unable to perform at my usual level of energy and competence (i.e., being sick) is to beat myself up for being unable to perform at my usual level of energy and competence. I was gently reminded that when I am not feeling my pretty best, calling myself “loser” is probably not the thing for getting me back on track. For some other, completely coincidental reason, I wound up with a stack of really depressing (but good!) books recently, and was told in no uncertain terms to put them aside for now, along with other buzzkills such as extensive surfing on peak oil, and take up cheering, coddling things.

The gang war taking place in my intestine pretty much precludes tasty treats, but happy books and magazines and video entertainment are A-OK. The boys and I spent an hour of quality time together today, and, after a soak in the tub with something mediumtrashy, I’ve been capping off my evenings with an inspiring book called The Art of Possibility.

And then sleep. Lots and lots of sleep…perchance some dreaming. About the time when the coddling can again take the form of long trips up the coast and crazy turns on stilts.

Photo of DELICIOUS cupcake from Clementine by Caroscuro, via Flickr, used with Creative Commons license.

(Crohn’s) disease of the week


After a half-hour fight with my gastroenterologist last night, he finally agreed to put me on short-term meds to try and control the too-earthly delights I’m currently housing in my 5’2″, 106 lb. (and rapidly shrinking) frame.

While we argue a lot, a function of our positions on opposite ends of the Western Medicine Cures All spectrum, we really do love each other. He calls me stubborn, I call him Graham and, despite my refusal to march with him in pharmacological lockstep, we’ve always come to some kind of mutually satisfying compromise, usually involving my taking some incredibly toxic medication for less time than he’d like and more time than I’d like.

This time, however, we’re running into some unusual problems. This flare I’m in now, which we both agree has its roots in an overly-long, overly-strong course of antibiotics I stupidly took after some minor skin surgery, is manifesting itself quite differently than previous Crohn’s flares, so much so that I’m starting to question whether I have Crohn’s colitis or ulcerative colitis.

There’s a lot of overlap in the symptoms (blood and diarrhea and fever and weight loss and the scent-of-the-dead flatulence no one discusses), and the way my disease presented initially, there was some question as to which disease I had. Frankly, as far as end-user experience goes, pain, medications with dreadful side effects, an illness one will never actually be “cured” of, this rose is pretty stinky, no matter what name it goes by.

Several of the treatments are similar, too: steroids, immunosuppressants, anti-inflammatories. There are more medications approved for use in Crohn’s disease, but finding the right one for either disease is hit or miss.

So now I’m on another, milder course of antibiotics, metronidazole, used to kill certain “bad” bacteria in the gut which are believed to be a contributing factor to Crohn’s disease. And, oddly enough, I find myself hoping I have Crohn’s disease (there’s no known effectiveness for UC treatment), so this antibiotic will spare me the hair-shedding, liver-bashing nightmare of the big gun meds like 6MP.

Me. Hoping I have Crohn’s disease.

The world changes by degree, except when it changes all at once…


UPDATE: I realized after re-reading this with some sleep that the juxtaposition of paragraphs made it sound like a geyser of blood and poop is shooting out of my ass at regularly timed intervals. Alas, no. If it were, things would actually be easier because we’d know what to put me on. As it is, I’m having the regular bowel movements of a healthy, high school football player, with no blood whatsoever. Just fever, aches and endless fatigue. In fact, the only thing that makes me sure this isn’t just fibromyalgia kicking in at a late date is the ungodly flatulence I’m still dealing with. Really. I could kill a puppy with one of my farts.

Photo by Ga Music Maker via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Colleen of the Future

honeymooners.jpgI found a cool site thanks to Stumble Upon, my new-favorite source of time suckage*. It’s called, and it’s nothing more than an email form that collects words you write, to someone else, I suppose, but mainly to oneself, and sends them to that person in the future. (The default is set to one year.)

This is pretty much what journals are all about, at least to me. I knew as I wrote them that even though they provided an excellent place for brain (and heart, and psyche) dump, they were mainly a map of me. From time to time, when I’m feeling particularly brave and strong, I’ll pull out an old journal from college or my early 20’s or, who am I kidding?, my late 30’s and early 40’s and cringe and cringe and cringe…and then I’ll spot something that saves me: some glimmer of insight or truth that runs through from the pure me to the me-currently-enmired in crap to, hopefully, the future me who will finally be beyond all this petty nonsense. (Although I will not be wearing any motherfucking purple, straight up.)**

I don’t write much in a journal anymore; after a year and a half of this, it’d feel like a busman’s holiday.

Then again, I don’t need to look too far to find Colleen of the Past anymore. Just an inch or so to the right.

*Thanks, Bon…for NOTHING!!! Sigh…

**UPDATE (8/27/12): Except for my purple sweater, my purple sweater I had before that, my purple shirt, and my purple scarf. And so it goes.

Photo of monkeyed-with scene from a great Honeymooners episode via

One pill makes you larger


Thanks to my family, I have an interesting relationship with medicine, both the kind with a small and a capital “m”.

In one corner, we have my (dead, workaholic) father, whose response to any and all corporal malfunction was to (a) ignore it and soldier on or (b) have something prescribed or excised and then soldier on. In the other, we have my (dead, alcoholic) mother, who was basically the same, only she thought the “(b)” part of the equation needlessly complicated.

Dad died nominally of liver failure but really of systemic decline from years and years of refusing to deal with his Crohn’s disease at anything deeper than a symptomatic level. (He did not drink alcohol.)

Mom died nominally of cervical cancer that had metastasized to her lungs, but really of her outrageous refusal to tend to even the basics of personal wellness (i.e., the annual pap). (She drank like a fish.)

Given my illustrious family history, it’s kind of miraculous that I’m hobbling along as well as I am with my own disease. Like all chronic illness, Crohn’s is an up and down proposition: unlike something discrete (a cold, say, or a broken arm), it flares up on its own schedule, brought on at times by something you didn’t know could trigger it (hormonal birth control), at times by something you did, but neglected, forgot (antibiotics, stress, Aunt Flo’). Managing it takes a sometimes delicate combination of vigilant self-care and willingness to accept outside help.

I have gotten much better at accepting help in the form of other people stepping up when I’m too tired or sick to deal. I am still wicked stubborn, however, about help in the form of medicine, mainly because the medicines I have to choose from range from bad (mesalamine, or as I like to call it “the hair loss drug”) to worse (purinethol, or as I like to call it, “the cancer drug that also causes hair loss”). In between is the pill I both love and dread the most: prednisone.

Yes, prednisone. King-daddy of the synthetic hormones, that magic steroidal elixir responsible for Jerry Lewis’s good looks a ways back. It stops the immune response, makes you feel strong like bull and blows you up like a human balloon. When I was released from my 11-day vacation at Cedars Sinai, I was on 60mg of the stuff a day. I put on 10 pounds in a day and a half. My good friend, Lily, had to bring me granny panties three sizes larger to accommodate my mystical instant tubbiness.

Prednisone is also the one drug that can hoist me out of a flare. I have a reserve prescription I keep around the house just in case. I’ve been eyeing it more frequently recently, weighing the costs of not only ballooning but turning my bones to butter and leaving myself open to whatever opportunistic bacterium or virus wants to wander my way. It’s a deal with the devil in many ways: it works amazingly well, but each time you use it, you lessen its potential effectiveness the next, until you’re taking Jerry Lewis doses.

This flare? It’s different than the others (I’ve had two since my initial onset in October of 2002). I’m not losing weight at the frightening rate I have in the past. There’s no blood or diarrhea this time, either, although the room-clearing gas has commenced (hooray!). Mostly, I’m just dealing with some low-grade fever, aching joints and a level of fatigue that forces me down earlier and earlier. Hardly the stuff of hour-long prime-time medical drama.

The thing is, there’s no way of knowing if I can pull myself out of this with diet and rest or if I need the big guns. The Specific Carbohydrate Diet, whose miracle Crohn’s-curing powers I’ve written of before (here and here), is good, but even its major proponent always said to work with medicine when you need it.

That’s what I’m trying to determine now: need. How well do I need to feel, and how soon? How wise would it be to wait, and for how long? If I go the meds route, should I go on the long-term meds, too, or trust the combination of fanatical adherence to the diet and the launching pad of prednisone to do the trick?

This is an unusually personal post for me, I know. I suppose it’s the closest I’ll come to a public admission of addictive behavior (at least, I hope so). But here it is: I’m addicted to whatever is the opposite of change. Like my parents before me, I’d rather ignore what’s right under my nose, currently, a thermometer that reads 100.2ºF, than deal with it.

I know why they did what they did now. They were afraid. Afraid of addressing the root cause of their poor health. Afraid of being called out as human beings trying to avoid the emotions of all human beings by hiding behind work, or in a bottle. Afraid that if they went in for help, they’d be told the inevitable: what you are doing, the way you are treating yourself, will kill you.

The sad thing is, it did anyway.

Fortunately, I’ve got my own number. It connects me to my G.I. doctor over at Cedars, whom I’ll speak to in the morning about going back on the prednisone, and perhaps something longer-term afterwards, until I’m sure I can fly on my own power.

My. Own. Power.


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How to have a great colonoscopy

cscope 0904

Via a sad letter* in Cary Tennis’s “Since You Asked” advice column on, I discovered that March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

As the recipient of no less than four six search missions up my asshole, I feel that perhaps I have some valuable information to offer those on the fence about whether or not to submit to the amazing photographic biopsy machine, and how to proceed once one does.

NUMBER 1: Take care of your asshole, don’t be one

Starting at 50, you need to be screened. (Earlier if you’ve a family history of colorectal cancer; I was told to be screened at 40, since I’d had an uncle DXd with cancerous polyps.)

Yes, a colonoscopy is nothing but a big, fat punchline (for some people, anyway). Yes, it’s daunting, the thought of having a foreign object shoved up your butt (for some people, anyway). Don’t worry: if you follow some pretty easy steps, it’s really a no-big-deal operation. Talk to your doctor and get a referral to a specialist who can give the exam.

One note: if you have any kind of gastrointestinal problems or family history of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis), I’d suggest having them screen for that at the same time, and having a gastroenterologist do the colonoscopy rather than a colorectal surgeon; they’ll likely do a more thorough job of screening for GI disorders.
But mainly, don’t avoid a screening out of fear of horrible pain. Trust me, prepping for the colonoscopy is usually worse than the thing itself.

NUMBER 2 (heh, heh): Name your poison

How well you prepare for your colonoscopy will pretty much determine how easy the procedure goes. As of my last colonoscopy, there were three types of colon blow to choose from to ready your pipes for the camera:

The worst of the three is FLEET’S PHOSPHO-SODA, an over-the-counter formula available at any drugstore that will violently blow every last bit of whatever out of your intestines, cause horrific pain and cramping and generally make you wish you were dead. Looks innocuous; will kick your fucking ass. Pun intended, and NOT recommended.

Marginally better is Kool-Aid from Hell, also known as “GO-LITELY”. This is a saline All of the flavors suck and you have to drink gallons of this stuff. I’m serious: gallons. In a very short span of time. It is much, much milder than Fleet’s, but that’s about all it has to recommend it.

Finally, there VISICOL, the brand name for a prescription pill one takes in combination with various glasses of water and fizzy drinks. It’s not a party, and you’ve got to swallow an awful lot of them, but I’ve found it to be the easiest on my GI tract of the three methods.

Remember, the world of meds changes fast and furiously. And with all these boomers headed into the colonoscopy years, you can bet there will be further refinement of technique. ASK! Make your doctor explain the differences to you. Do a little internet research (I guess I don’t have to tell you that if you’re reading this). You are your own best advocate.

NUMBER 3: A little extra prep pays off huge dividends

Your doctor (or his assistant) will give you a list of things you can and can’t eat right before the procedure. If you know what’s good for you, don’t stop there. Give yourself at LEAST one additional day of extremely light eating before the day you’re actually required to, especially if you are one of those people with a slow transit time (i.e., you don’t poop a lot, or tend towards constipation). Despite my Crohn’s, I’ve always been one of those people, and believe me, the evacuation process is a helluva lot more pleasant when the purgative isn’t blasting its way through the intestinal equivalent of bedrock. I recommend salads and smoothies and broth, along with as much water as you can stand.

NUMBER 4: If possible, schedule first appointment

Due to the mild sedative you’ll be given, you’re not even allowed water for several hours before the procedure. Combine that with the purgative and lack of nourishment your body has dealt with over the last 24 hours and you want to make sure you spend the minimum amount of daylight feeling like you do. If your doctor offers an 8am appointment, take it; you’ll do most of your hungry/icky time asleep, and won’t have to worry about expending a lot of energy that you don’t have.

NUMBER 5: Lay in a supply of eeeeeasy foods (and videos!) for afterward

You will probably be a little gassy and uncomfortable afterwards: all that colon-emptying creates a lot of residual gas; in addition, they sometimes blow air up your colon to get a better look. You will get hungry anyway, and believe me, you don’t want to give your tummy anything challenging or heavy for a day or so afterwards. Again, the facility where you have your procedure done will probably give you a list, but non-heavy soups, smoothies and other “sick” food are a good bet.

You will probably also be not your shining best for the rest of the day. Try to take it off completely, or if you must, only really light work from home. I’m sure there are some hardy souls who spring right off the table and are ready to chop wood or bury the competition, but really, that gas can be ba-a-a-ad, and a day and a half without real food (by the time you’re home from the procedure) can make you weak as a kitty.

NUMBER 6: Follow up!

Your specialist will probably go over the visual assessment briefly in the recovery room; you’ll get the in-depth results later on. If you’re not used to talking to doctors, consider bringing someone along with you to actually hear the news with you and ask questions. Barring that, do a little research, bring questions and make sure you understand what your doctor is telling you. Write it down, if you have to. I know it sounds weird, but we have an uncanny way of not hearing what we don’t want to, or at the very least, minimizing it. I’m convinced that if I’d had someone with me the first time I’d gotten my c-scope results, I would never have suffered the violent onset of Crohn’s that I did.

That’s about it. Please remember, I’m not a doctor and none of this constitutes medical advice. It merely represents the sum total of my experience before, during and after having cameras shoved up my heinie (which is not inconsiderable).

Good luck, and don’t forget to ask for a picture!


*You may have to watch an ad to read the link if you’re not a subscriber.

UPDATE 7/21/08: After two less-than-great preps with Visicol and a similar prep drug, I’m back to endorsing the Phospho-Soda. Basically, there’s no fun prep, but I think this is the cheapest and least awful of them.

UPDATE 5/30/09: Phospho-Soda has been taken off the market.

PHOTO of my beautiful colon by Dr. Graham Woolf, G.I.

LINK: National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

SXSW: All your Interactive are belong to us

SXSW baggie

I know what you’re thinking: she went to all of those movies; no way could she have hit up a bunch of geek panels, too.


Overall, the interactive panels/presentations portion of SXSW was a mixed bag. There was far less actionable information than I’d hoped for, but since I was mainly interested in how you turn something hopelessly unmarketable (i.e., this blog) into something that might bring you a comfortable living, a national forum and self-actualization, I was pretty prepared for finding my hopes unaligned with reality.

Unfortunately, after the first panel we attended, Podcasting 2.0, at my insistence, both The BF and I were ready to forego the interactive part of the proposition and slum at the film fest, where we at least stood a chance at being entertained. The entire proceedings felt thin, weak and hastily thrown together, which, it turned out, was the truth: the panel was a last-minute addition to the schedule, most likely because someone at SXSW realized (or had pointed out to them) that in the age of the podcast explosion, there was zero podcasting presence at this supposedly forward-thinking conference itself.

In stark contrast to the podcasting panel was the Daniel Gilbert Presentation: How to Do Precisely the Right Thing at All Possible Times. Desperate for the schwag, an advance copy of Gilbert’s forthcoming book, Stumbling On Happiness, to the first 100 attendees, I dragged the insanely tolerant BF to the next conference room. Like a scene from a movie starring ME, I made a beeline to the schwag girl, watching her hand off book after book from her dwindling supply, a sea of smug recipients peeling off to either side of me. When she handed me the 100th copy, I was certain that this presentation would be a winner; I was not disappointed. Gilbert, a Harvard professor and grampa when he is not giving presentations and writing books, is a smart, funny, engaging speaker who has honed his presentation to a fine edge. But in addition to the interest factor Gilbert for me, pundit-in-training, his material, an exploration of the evolutionary roots of decision making and its effect on the happiness of modern decisionmakers, was fascinating and compelling. I suspect this talk will not show up on the SXSW podcast page, but if you get the chance to hear Gilbert speak, I highly recommend it.

So I’m figuring that the dealio (for me, anyway) is to hit the solo presentations and skip the panels. With that in mind, I trucked on over to the James Surowiecki Presentation: The Wisdom of Crowds, the New Yorker writer’s live presentation of his book‘s content, which was…disappointing. Curses! And so much for my ingenious ferreting out system. Granted, some of the difficulty stemmed from the presentation being held in a large, high-ceilinged ballroom with dreadful acoustics, which itself was adjacent to another ballroom serving as a band’s daystage, but Surowiecki himself was clearly at a stage where he’s more comfortable as a writer than a presenter, and having no slides or other media to distract from his slight awkwardness didn’t help. This is one case where I’d rather have read the book, and to be fair, because the talk’s content was pretty interesting, I just might.

I had no idea what to expect with Sunday’s Keynote Conversation: Heather Armstrong / Jason Kottke, except for a very large crowd in attendance. Since I’ve a mild obsession with both dooce (a mommyblogger who went nationwide!) and (I became a micropatron after only being a short-time reader), I made sure The BF and I got there early. We met a charming young localblogger who was a freak for dooce and fought over the 12″ (PowerBook) until the show started. Again, no real actionable information, but I was there to hear about how they blogged and how blogging affected them and they didn’t disappoint. Even The BF enjoyed this one. Podcast available for download here.

Immediately following in the same room was one of the liveliest panels I attended, DIY Now More Than Ever. I’m a huge fan of Gina Trapani from Lifehacker, and she’s just as sunny and energetic in person as she comes across on her sites. And humble. Humility was sort of the watchword here: every one of the panelists seemed genuinely grateful that s/he had achieved whatever quantifiable measure of success s/he had. Again, not huge amounts of actionable information, but since I’m not really looking to start a web business or sell a piece of software, I doubt I would have found much more than inspiration and encouragement, which the panel provided in spades.

Personality was my main reason for attending Cluetrain: Seven Years Later, as well. I stepped on the internest bandwagon rather late (not counting my early obsession with epinions), so most of these rockstars don’t register for me. I’d heard of Doc Searls, though, and was curious. He’s a cool dude, is Doc, laid back and just into doing his own thing. Which, by the way, was my biggest takeaway from SXSWi: do your own thing and whatever will follow, but at least you’ll be doing your own thing, which presumably should be reward enough.

DL Byron ran my favorite panel at the conference, Does Your Blog Have a Business? He took his role as moderater seriously and had excellent questions prepared. Not that I have any information to share, I was basically there to see CSS god Jeffrey Zeldman, and wasn’t planning to take any notes. I am pretty shy and felt extra shy at my first SXSW, so I didn’t actually meet any of these superstars. I did run into DL at the Austin airport, though, and was able to tell him how much I enjoyed his panel. He, in turn, gave me a sample of his new product, clip-n-seal. Damned thing is simple as hell and works like a charm (that’s me in the photo above, holding up the new communicatrix cards I had printed up for SXSW, in a clip-n-seal). I hope he makes a bazillion dollars and can quit all his day jobs.

The last two panels I attended were about vlogging, although no one seems to call it that: How to Add Video to Your Blog and Video Blog Business Models. I was astounded at how many people crowded their way into the first panel…and how sparsely attended the second was, by comparison. Especially since, as Michael Verdi from FreeVlog put it, there’s an online tutorial that explains the entire thing in detail…for free! There was some useful information, mainly along the lines of length (keep it under 3 minutes), choosing the right medium for the message (blogging vs. podcasting vs. vlogging) and what makes for good subject matter (your hilarious, quirky family members, from the looks of things), but really, the first panel was just fun to listen to. I mean, hell, they’re good at presenting live, right?

My takeaway on videoblogging business models echoes my takeaway from SXSW, period: you will most likely get paid because of your presence on the internet rather than because of it. None of the people I saw speak at SXSW, not one of them, started blogging or podcasting or vlogging to make money. Well, I suspect one person who kept cropping up on panel after panel did, but he’s the anomaly, and so fucking annoying and full of himself I cannot believe anyone listens to his podcasts, much less that he gets paid for them.

The other great takeaway info I got was this: if you want to do something on the web, see who’s doing it now and figure out how you can ‘kill’ them. Time and time again, I saw that it wasn’t necessarily the first person to get there, but the one who did it best. In that way, I suppose all this geeky internutty stuff is like writing (all the stories have been told, you’re just telling them a new way) or acting (no one can do Hamlet like you do Hamlet) or anything else (build a better mousetrap, etc).

I guess I went to the oracle expecting something, and the oracle told me I should look first in my own back yard.

Actually, I told myself that…