Ice Closing Over My Head

March 6, 2015 by

Something interesting happened yesterday while I was meditating.

As you may know, our move to Canada has been hard on me. Things are better now, but a part of me still longs for the sense of home I had in Washington.

Last summer, I spent almost two months in the U.S., visiting friends and family and attending a writers’ retreat. When it was time to return, I headed north with a very heavy heart.

There’s an exquisite image in the opening chapter of the novel Touch by Alexi Zentner(This is a spoiler, but it happens in the first chapter, so it doesn’t spoil much. And this entire entry won’t make sense without the spoiler.)

The hands were not touching. Even through the plate of frozen water covering them, we saw clearly that little more than the width of an ax blade separated my father’s two hands from my sister’s one. His mangled fingers on one hand, the smooth alabaster fingers on the other hand, all stretched toward Marie’s small hand. The ice, like glass above their hands, thickened as we tried to look further out, to see the rest of their bodies and their faces.  The lines blurred, only shadows, dark shapes.

The image has haunted me. It became a symbol of how I felt about Canada. If I remained in Canada another winter, I thought, I would end up as they did — frozen forever in the failed task of touching, of making contact with another human being.

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Danger, Will Robinson!

February 20, 2015 by

I had a weird experience last night at a young writers club I lead.

I ran into someone, someone from that horrible first year in Canada, someone I would have happily gone my whole life without ever seeing again.

The evening didn’t start well. It’s book sale week at my favorite library.

hate book sale week because it displaces the group from our customary spot, and nobody seems to consider in advance where to put us instead. So I show up to cause panic in the girls at the counter because our space and our tables are covered with books for sale, and both the program and meeting rooms have been rented out.

Mind you — I love that book sale week helps my favorite library raise extra funds. I just hate showing up to learn that I have fifteen rowdy girls in grades four and five — and no place to take them.

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From Out of Nowhere

February 17, 2015 by

The other day I was driving on the Whitemud — a limited access highway. Where we were, there are three regular lanes in both directions, plus a fourth entrance ramp lane merging into the far lane.

It’s what we call a freeway in the States.

The roads were a bit slick that day (as they often are), so the traffic was traveling ten or twenty kph below the speed limit.

In the far right lane, a car traveled behind a school bus. I believe they were both merging onto the highway from the entrance ramp. The lane next to them was clear.

In the center lane, pacing me, was another car. I was in the far left lane, up against the concrete abutment between us and oncoming traffic. There is a shoulder there, of sorts, but it’s piled with a snow windrow this time of year.

Without warning, the car behind the bus lost control.

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Drama IRL, Part 12: A Changed Perspective

February 14, 2015 by

I awoke from my dream with Jackie Allen’s cover of the “Tea in the Sahara” playing in my head, a soundtrack to the events played out.

“My sisters and I / Have this wish before we die / And it may sound strange / As if our minds are deranged / Please don’t ask us why / Beneath the sheltering sky / We have this strange obsession / You have the means in your possession.”

Now, I sure you think I’m nuts to interrupt my story of a hospital stay to tell you about a dream, but this particular dream coming at that exact point in my life felt profoundly significant.

I’ve been teaching The Writer’s Journey to the Teen Writers group I lead at the library, and I woke with the realization that my dream had followed The Writer’s Journey faithfully.

It began in the Ordinary World, albeit a new Ordinary World. The Call to Adventure came when I was trapped in the tower, but my sisters and I Refused the Call by trying to escape and avoid the service project. I awoke before the Hero Accepted the Call, but I knew she would.

I knew I would.

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Drama IRL, Part 11: The Tower

February 13, 2015 by

When I got home from the hospital, I slept for twelve hours straight. I don’t think I woke up once, not even when Mars’ alarm went off and he got up to take Girly Girl to school.

Right before I woke, I had an incredibly vivid dream. I was in my late 20s and my family (parents and two sisters, also in their late 20s) had just moved, that day, into a glorious new home. A mansion really, nearly on the scale of Downton Abbey, except it was made of natural wood, varnished but unpainted and unstained.

It was an iconic building. If one mentioned the name of the town, the listener would always reply, “Isn’t that where that gorgeous old building is?”

Typically, once I got my bedroom set up, I wanted to explore.

The front entry was huge, the size of a small ballroom.Twin staircases led up to the main floor from the back of either side, but towers rose in front of them. The tower on the right was standard: a column of rooms accessed by a staircase along the walls.

But the left side was curious: instead of a staircase, there was a steep ramp with a polished marble floor. Though a bannister hugged the inner wall, it was very difficult to climb without sliding back to the entry.

However, I am nothing if not stubborn. I climbed up to the first landing, though much of the time, I was literally hanging from the bannister, pulling myself up hand over hand.

At the landing was a sign. It said “Welcome to …

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Drama IRL Part 10: Going Home

February 11, 2015 by

An hour passed with no sign of my parole check-out paperwork.

“When it’s time to go, I’ll bring the car to the nearest entrance,” Mars said. “The doors I came in are quite a long ways away though. I’ll have to ask where the nearest entrance is.”

“Oh, they won’t let me walk,” I said. “At the very least, they’ll insist on sending me out in a wheelchair.”

When the LPN came around about 9:30 to check my vitals, I could hardly stand the excitement. But she did the routine — blood pressure, oxygen saturation, temperature — and turned to go.

“When does Katrina get to go home?” Mars asked, somewhat frantically.

“I thought she was staying the night.” The nurse looked surprised. “But I’ll check her chart and talk to the charge nurse.”

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Drama IRL, Part 9: Food and Drink — Finally!

February 10, 2015 by

“You should stay another night to avoid driving in the snow,” the charge nurse told me. “But it’s up to you.”

Up to me? In the States, it’s never the patient’s choice. No insurance policy would pay for an optional night.

Not to mention — who wants to spend an extra night in the hospital?

She asked a couple more questions, checked my incision (taking care not to expose me), and made a note in my chart. Then she said, “Would you like your dinner?”

“YES!” I practically shouted. But then, despite myself, I said, “I didn’t think I was allowed to eat.”

She looked surprised. “Hmmm. I’ll ask your nurse.”

She caught my nurse at the door. and I overheard the conversation with failing hope. “She cannot eat until eight,” my nurse said emphatically. “I’ll keep the tray for her, and warm it up then.”

After an hour, the kitchen staff came for the rolling metal cart. “I’ll keep that tray,” my nurse said. “She can’t eat until eight.”

“You can’t just hold a tray for hours,” the kitchen staff member said. “It’ll go bad.” My nurse murmured a response I couldn’t hear, and he added, “I’ll leave it until seven, but after that, we have to throw it away. It isn’t safe to eat.”

Throw it away! The delicious smell had dissipated, and I doubted it would taste as good warmed over anyway — but not to get it at all? Not to even learn what the smell was? That seemed grossly unfair!

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Drama IRL, Part 8: The Worst Backache of My Life

February 9, 2015 by

There was still one big question to be answered though. “If I don’t have an aneurysm, what was it?”

The radiologist shrugged. “Probably a blood vein burst in your head.”

“But …” I frowned. “Isn’t that exactly what an aneurysm is? A burst blood vessel in one’s brain?”

“Well, yes,” he said. “But it’s only an aneurysm if it’s an artery that bursts.”

He must have seem my confusion because he continued. “There are two types of blood vessels: veins and arteries. Arteries come directly from the heart and carry fresh, oxygenated blood out to the body, with the force of the pumping heart. Veins are a drainage system that carry the used blood back to the heart, but they don’t operate under nearly as much pressure.”

He continued. “So if you break a vein, you bleed until it clots. It’s usually not a problem unless you have a clotting issue. But if you break an artery …”

“You bleed out in minutes,” I said.

“Yes. And it’s even worse in the brain because the blood is trapped by the skull, so very quickly it puts too much pressure on the brain.”

“Ah. Got it.” I still had one more question. “So if this wasn’t an aneurysm, what’s my risk for having one in the future? I don’t have a history of aneurysms after this, right?”

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Drama IRL, Part 7: Cerebral Angiogram

February 8, 2015 by

“Do I have time to use the washroom?” I asked the nurse. “They told me I’ll have to lie still for four hours afterward.”

When the nurse nodded, I sat up … and immediately realized I’d made a big mistake. My back hurt. I’d been lying on my back for hours, trying to sleep, when I should have been lying on my side. But there was no help for it.

The nurse unclipped my IV, and the porter wheeled me away. He was probably in his late 50s, given the gray in his beard, and he had a prosthetic arm. But he drove that gurney like Mario Andretti.

At one point, he was maneuvering me into a tight elevator, and my husband said, “Can I give you a hand?” I had to fight inappropriate giggles as I wondered if Mars realized what he’d said. (He told me later he only realized it after it was out, and thought it would only make things worse to add, “I can’t believe I just offered to give you a hand!”)


The porter left me by the doors into Surgery, and while I was waiting, I took one last selfie and posted, “It’s showtime!! In three! … two! …”

Another dark, handsome man (less tall than the previous one) walked up to my bed. “I’m Dr. So-and-So. I’m the radiologist who will be doing your procedure.”

Dr. Exasperated Wake-Up Call must have gone off-shift, but I was OK with that. I was quite happy with Dr. Charming instead.

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Drama IRL, Part 6: Waiting … and Waiting

February 8, 2015 by

My roommate’s cries were wordless and animal-like — and deeply unsettling. She went straight to sleep afterward, but it took me a while to settle down again.

I had barely gotten to sleep when the nurses bustled in and turned on the light to move a third woman into the far bed. I lay awake listening to the familiar litany. “Do you know where you are? What is today’s date? Did your headache come on abruptly or gradually?”

Eventually the room quieted again, and after two nights with no sleep, it took no time at all for me to fall into a deep, restful sleep.

So when two men entered my room not thirty minutes later and said, “Ms. Stonoff? Katrina Stonoff?”, I had trouble swimming to consciousness. One of them finally took my arm and squeezed it, repeating my name louder.

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