Monday, October 13, 2014

The heart of the matter

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

I watched the numbers on the dashboard clock change... 12:40pm, 12:41pm, 12:42pm. I was already officially late and was still at least 10 minutes away from my destination at the local hospital.

My mind began to sprint, along with my heart.

Why did I leave at 12:20pm when I know it takes at least half an hour to get to the hospital? Why did I agree to an appointment with a cardiologist? Is it possible for my heart to beat right out of my chest? Is this what a heart attack feels like? Will the painfully slow driver ahead of me notice when I slump over my wheel? I smell licorice. Calm down, calm down, calm down… 

Arriving 10 minutes late for my first ever meeting with a heart specialist, I was told by the nurse behind the counter to head to radiology and get an EKG before coming back to the waiting room.

There were at least four people ahead of me all staring at the Closed For Lunch sign. Like me, everyone in the queue was there to see the cardiologist. Unlike me, everyone in the queue had arrived an hour in advance of their appointments.

My heart was pounding.

The circumstances that led to my sitting with a group of senior citizens, discussing beta blockers in a cold hospital hallway staring at askew contagious diseases posters, may or may not have been brought on my tendency to exhibit irrational fears as evidenced by this fairly typical internal monologue.

Oh, what a beautiful sunrise. The sky is so intense this morning. Hmm, my left arm is hurting. I wonder why it aches so much. I don’t remember doing anything to bring that on. WOW my heart is really racing. I better check my pulse. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9………….. 10. HOLY CRAP my heart just skipped a beat! Calm down, calm down… ACK! It just did it again! This can’t be good. RELAX, relax, relax… Ok now my back is sore. That’s a bad sign. I better lay down before I have a heart attack. 

Ninety-nine percent of the time I’m a levelheaded person, not given to fits of unreasonable fretfulness. There was even a time in my life when I was blissfully unaware of dangers and death (case in point: the clog incident). But over the past number of years (since the birth of my daughter, the sudden death of my father and the arrival of my hormone-filled 40s) the sensible side of my brain has become mushy, not unlike my stomach…

"Andrea? Andrea Mulder-Slater?"

The EKG technologist was chatty and friendly as she instructed me to lift my shirt so she could stick electrodes on my chest.

“May I ask why you’re here?” she asked politely.

The truth was, I had become a well-informed neurotic, thanks to Google. My online research, combined with an uncanny ability to zero in on fear-provoking articles in Chatelaine Magazine’s heart-heath issues had turned me into a hypochondriac in training. All I was lacking was a mentor.

“I guess I’m just nervous.” I replied. “My family doctor thought it would be a good idea if I ruled some things out.”

“Have you ever had this test before?” 

I recounted the time, many years prior, when my love of caffeinated coffee resulted in having a holter monitor strapped to my body. The symptoms were alarming. I had palpitations, arm vibrations, full body jitters and an impending sense of doom. And it all went away, as soon as I followed my family doctor’s advice and stopped drinking 6 cups of caffeinated beverages a day.
“I’ve got the same problem,” she said, “but I just love my coffee too much to stop.” 

“I’ve been drinking decaf since February.” I explained as she began removing the sticky patches from my skin.

“Are you sure you didn’t drink a real one today because your heart is really beating fast!”

In spite of her kind smile and sweet demeanor, the technologist’s comments did nothing to ease my unease.

Back in the clinic waiting room, I tried really hard to think about unicorns and gumdrops as I listened to my fellow patients discussing who had recently passed away and which restaurant made the best fish and chips.


I was led into a little room and told to remove my clothes from the waist up. It was like the dermatologist all over again.

My heart was jumping. It might have been pole dancing.

Sitting in my hospital gown waiting for the doctor to arrive, gave me just enough time to glance at the sheet of paper I had been avoiding. I had no idea what I was looking at but I knew one thing for sure… it didn’t look good.

From what I could tell, there was a hole in my heart and I was pretty sure that it was beating backwards, rather than forwards – if that’s even possible. Also, because the words unconfirmed analysis and undiagnosed appeared on the page, I was certain I was dying.

Not my EKG results. I was too busy stressing about stress to take a photo of my own results.
The doctor arrived just in time because my heart was threatening to thrust its way through my rib cage.  At least I'm in the right place to have a heart attack, I thought to myself.

My examination was very thorough - albeit anti-climactic - with the words, “your heart is like a freight train” uttered more than once. In the end, talking with the cardiologist was as relaxing as drinking antihistamine tea (although I’m pretty sure that’s not allowed). He told me that my fixation on the area between my waist and my throat was completely normal - given my circumstances - and that my EKG and blood pressure results were completely fine. I was given a clean bill of health, but before I left, my new favorite medical professional said it wouldn’t hurt to have a cholesterol test and maybe – at some point – a stress test, just for his records.

Fast-forward two months. I’m feeling a little bit guilty about the French fries I ate two days ago. Also, the oven-baked hash brown I devoured yesterday and the sausage I just consumed.

The thing is, I still have yet to take that cholesterol test and ever since I received that yellow sheet of paper, I’ve abandoned my penchant for morning green drinks, afternoon salads and evening veggie platters (with almonds for snack time) and instead I’ve been eating like a glassy eyed, super-high fraternity brother on a weeklong bender.

Potato chips, pizza, deep fried vegetables. You name it. I’m craving it. In fact, a food psychologist would have a heyday with me right now. Which makes me wonder… are food psychologists for real? Because really, I think I can figure this out from here, on my own. No disrespect intended. And please pass the Cheezies because I need energy since, as you know, I'm in training for an upcoming stress test.

 No, really.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

See it work

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

I love Dick and Jane books. 

I loved them when I was a kid and I love them now that I am teaching the 5 year old how to read.

Yesterday, I was in the office, busy writing about another one of my brushes with the medical community, when I heard my daughter reading aloud in the living room. 

She was going through a book we had recently purchased at a library sale. 

Then, I had a slow-motion conversation inside my head -- because, look at this.

Um... what exactly is this story about?

Oh shit. Did I accidentally buy a Dick and Jane parody book?

WHAT can work for her? Good lord Dick!

That's when I sprung into action.
I rushed to the living room, distracted the 5 year old with a box of raisins and grabbed the reader in time to see this...

I love Dick and Jane books.

No, really.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

He's a doctor, and he plays one on tv (or the big screen, whichever)

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

Since hitting my thirties forties, my body has gone a wee bit haywire, thanks to a combination of hormonal skirmishes and sour cream and onion potato chips.

To give you an idea, earlier this year I watched a tiny freckle on my collarbone inflate into a horrific skin balloon worthy of its own after school special. Circa 1983.

It was enough to land me an audience with a dermatologist, but not until two months later. The timing turned out to be less than perfect because as it happened, my ghastly growth heroically absconded from my neck exactly one week before my appointment.

It’s like my body isn't even trying to be normal.

Still, I kept my meeting, mostly because I wanted to make sure the rest of my beauty marks weren’t plotting a mutiny, but also because I thought I might be able to talk the good doctor into removing a bothersome bump located just below my left eye, which had been eliciting far too many “here let me get that smudge off of you” gestures from total strangers.

On the morning of my consultation, Geoff offered to drive, in case I inhaled too much rubbing alcohol and became unable to find my way home. Since I am incapable of parallel parking at the best of times, I took him up on his offer.

 In the waiting room, I was able to catch up on my reading while discovering an assortment of disorders and allergies I might start to develop as I age. When the nurse called me in, almost an hour later, I was grateful for the reprieve. That was, until she handed me a disposable sheet and asked me to strip down to my underwear.

“But,” I said, motioning towards my face, “I’m just here for this little bump…”

She left the room with the words “The doctor will be in to see you shortly,” trailing behind her.

As I sat, perched on the examining table, it struck me how utterly freezing the room was. I tried to stay warm by rapidly rubbing my hands together, which might have worked had I not accidentally grabbed and ripped my paper privacy sheet in half. And so, to keep my mind off my nudity, I started to compare the marks on my skin with the images on the posters covering the walls.

After diagnosing myself with several stages of skin cancer, I noticed some pristine utensils sitting on the counter-top in the corner. A syringe and razor blade were accompanied by a stash of cotton balls, paper towels and a tiny bottle of liquid labeled HurtBeGone or NoMorePain or something like that. Really, there was no reason not to feel panic-stricken.

That’s when Val Kilmer walked in.

“Hello,” he said as he reached over to shake my hand, “I’m a major motion picture star from the 80s and 90s and beyond, and I’ll be playing the role of your dermatologist today.”

At least, that’s what I heard.

He had a puzzled look on his face as he glanced at the torn paper sheet no longer covering me in any useful way. Then he proceeded to inspect my collarbone (inflamed mole) and the spot beneath my eye (skin tag). Following that, he asked me to lie face down on the table so he could have a looksee.

That’s when several thoughts occurred to me all at once…

GOOD LORD, a dermatologist is a SKIN doctor. I have skin ALL over my body. I am about to be inspected, close up and my doctor looks like Val Kilmer (post Top Gun). I did not groom today. Wait, is that a magnifying glass? 
At the end of the going-over, my dashing specialist told me that my skin was healthy. He even named a few of my moles and said I should probably keep an eye on them, then he said he’d be right back and left me to get dressed.

I was conflicted. Sure I felt violated but at the same time, I had just been given a clean bill of health, so really… double win!

When he returned, Val Kilmer had a can of liquid nitrogen tucked under his arm. That’s when I noticed he was wearing sandals. He had me hold my eyelid shut with my left hand while he blasted the hell out of a spot mere millimeters from my eye.

“This may or may not work. You’ll know either way in about two weeks,” he said as a slightly icy sensation turned to blazing hot pain.

“Ouch?!” I spat. To which he whispered, “Yes.”

Then he continued to burn my face for several more minutes.

Before I left, we discussed laser surgery which could remove a small spot on my nose that only I can see. In bright sunlight. Wearing three pairs of reading glasses. Val Kilmer told me the surgery might temporarily leave me looking like I have two black eyes, then he proceeded to punch me in the arm show me what to expect in terms of discomfort. I agreed to book an appointment.

After that, he bid me farewell.

Back to the waiting room, Geoff took one look my eye and asked, “Too much rubbing alcohol?”

“Yeah,” I replied, “Something like that.”

Fast-forward several weeks...

The skin tag that had been plaguing me for nearly 4 years first grew to epic proportions and then, without fanfare, disappeared without a trace – kind of like my modesty and now I feel like a movie star.
Thank you Val Kilmer. Thank you.

No, really.

(Val Kilmer photo: Dallas Morning News)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Painting in public. Or not.

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

It should be fairly obvious to everyone by now, that I am not a people person. It's not that I don't like people (well, most people), it's that I'm just really, really uncomfortable around them. 

If you don't believe me, just go ahead and try to strike up a conversation. I'll want to chat (I really will) but in the end, we'll both be hearing crickets. (Or worse. )

And the thing is, the thoughts in my head are often far more interesting (albeit more inappropriate) than what comes out of my mouth.

It is for this reason that painting in public is excruciatingly painful for me. Because, you know... people. And while most folks are delightful, some are less than sublime and others are downright offensive. I get it, they don't know what to say either. I mean, artists are weird and you never know when one of them is going to cut off an ear or develop syphilis, right?

Trouble is, I don't have the nerve to speak my mind -- in person.  However, in print I'm such a charmer. That's a joke, by the way.

So, here, in no particular order...  are 20 comments and questions heard while painting in public -- followed by my responses. And my thoughts. 

"Are you an artist?" 


What I say: Yes.

What I'm thinking: Of course not, I’m a dental hygienist. See my utensils?

"Did you paint that?"


What I say: Yes.

What I'm thinking: Actually no, I just tossed the guy who was here into the ocean so I could steal his canvas.

"I can’t draw a straight line."


What I say: That’s funny, neither can I. (smiles)

What I'm thinking: Well aren't you original. It's not like I haven't heard that 1000 times before.

"I don’t have a creative bone in my body." 


What I say: Oh, heh heh. Um.

What I'm thinking: I’m not sure what you want me to say here. I'm sorry?

"My Great Aunt was an artist."


What I say: Oh, that's nice.

What I'm thinking: I'm so freaking happy for you.

"Do you make a living from art?"


What I say: It can be difficult, but I make out okay.

What I'm thinking: That depends. Do you have a better offer?

"Do you have a day job?"


What I say: I'm an artist.

What I'm thinking: Would it be fun if I told you I was a brain surgeon?
ps: It's 11'oclock in the morning. This is daytime.

"I wish I could paint." 


What I say: You might surprise yourself.

What I'm thinking:  I wish I had an invisibility shield. Zap. Crap. Nope, not working.

"You are so creative." 


What I say: Thank you.

What I'm thinking:  I’ll bet you’re proud of me too.

"How much would you charge for a painting of ____________?" 


What I say: For this size? Around $100.00.

What I'm thinking: Thanks for asking but I know you're just making small talk and have absolutely no intention of buying my work so shoo.

"How long will it take you to finish that?" 


What I say: Oh, another hour or so.

What I'm thinking: Four hundred and thirty-three hours. And 17 seconds. Give or take. Thanks for asking.

"Do you show your work in, you know, galleries?" 


What I say: Sometimes.

What I'm thinking: Mostly I show in meat-packing factories. But galleries might be something for me to look into. Thank god I ran into you.

"Do you know _________? She’s an artist too. I love her work."


What I say: Yes, I know her.

What I'm thinking: Yes, I know her. She's kind of a shithead and the fact that you like her work makes me question your judgement. 

"Did you go to school for art?" 

What I say: Yes.

What I'm thinking: I thought you might be a snob but now I know for sure.

"Did you draw that out first?"


What I say: No.

What I'm thinking: If I say yes does that make me a failure in your eyes?

"What are you painting?"


What I say: Oh, just that boat over there.

What I'm thinking: Ok Sherlock. It’s a boat. A freaking boat. It’s that boat, in the harbor, right in front of me. Can you stop talking now?

"Is that paint by number?" 


What I say: Haha. No.

What I'm thinking: Haha. I'll be your wife regrets marrying you.

"Is that from memory?"


What I say: No.

What I'm thinking: Yes. I am Just. That. Good. Would you like me to paint you a horse now?

"Do you paint by heart?"


What I say: Not usually.

What I'm thinking:  I don’t even know what that means.

"Good luck to you!" 


What I say: Thank you.

What I'm thinking: Seriously? Good luck to me? WTF?

"Can I take a photo?" 


What I say: Sure

What I'm thinking: What not? You’ve stolen my time, you might as well steal my soul too.

Yeah, I know that was 21 comments/questions. Just wanted to see if you were paying attention.

And now, because I can't be the only artist who has painted in public (with expected results), I have created a handy visual aid.

You're welcome.

No, really.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

If you can't take the heat... bathe in bamboo juice.

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

On a day not so long ago, I was helping to hang an art show. It was a hot day – much warmer than what had been forecast - and as a result, everyone there was dressed in outfits better suited for a polar vortex than a lava rinse.

At some point in the afternoon, I started to smell the faint stench of body odor.

My mind was immediately transported back to the summer after I graduated from art school when I worked at a gallery with a woman who eschewed deodorant. It was a particularly challenging time of my life since the office was exceptionally small and had no air-conditioning. I mean honestly, walking into that place was like being surrounded by fifty 9 year old kids,  just developing sweat glands.

My colleagues and I had so many questions about our co-worker.
Did she not know she reeked like dirty socks soaked in fish goo? Could she not smell herself? Dear god, did we all stink?
It was a superficial summer to remember.

Meanwhile back at the art show, I scanned the room to see which one of us was fouling up the air. My gaze rested on one volunteer unpacking paintings. She must be so embarrassed, I thought as I wandered to the restroom.

Then, the unthinkable happened. The body odor didn’t disappear as I walked away from the crowd. In fact, it intensified.

Oh dear lord. The pong was coming from ME.

My mind raced…
Did I forget to put on deodorant this morning? Is this shirt defective? Have I always stunk and am only just now discovering it? Is this why I never get invited to parties? 
I rinsed my arms in the bathroom sink, making the woman in stall #1 nervous enough to stay put until I left the room.
Fast-forward ahead three weeks. Geoff and I are getting ready for dinner out with friends. It is hot. Really hot. Sun scorching at 7pm hot. And so, I choose a black shirt and black pants. Because, of course I do.

Since this is to be a fancy dinner, I want to be sure I don’t stink like a 5th grade classroom during standardized test week. So, I grab a heavy-duty antiperspirant/deodorant that I've never tried before. The bottle claims to make the wearer smell of oranges and bamboo, lasts for 24 hours and won’t let anyone down. Ever.

I put my faith in the fine print, which promises that the white film will fade as it dries.

In the car on the way to the restaurant, Geoff looks over at me and asks if I’ve been eating icing sugar. I look in horror at the shockingly white dust covering my ultra-black pants.

I peer under my arms and discover what looks like shredded coconut under my pits. It’s like the deodorant isn’t even trying to dry clear. But I do smell like orange slices. Sweet, sweet oranges.

“Go back, go back!” I shout, desperate for a do-over.
“There’s no time!” shouts Geoff back at me.

I frantically search the car for napkins or paper towels and settle instead for a supermarket receipt with an exceptionally large number of potato chip purchases.

After carving away part of the mess from my skin, I tackle my shirt and pants, which now look like they were worn during the clean up after a flour factory explosion. I complete the gargantuan task of rubbing away most of the white just as we arrive at the restaurant.

Wandering to the door, I leave a trail of deodorant on the ground and I imagine what the people walking steps behind us must be thinking…
What’s going on up there? Is that rice? There’s confetti all over the pavement. Did someone just get married? Oh there, up ahead, there’s the lovely couple. It must have been a Goth wedding because the bride is dressed completely in black and it’s one hundred degrees outside. Poor dear, she’s obviously used to wearing Doc Martens because she’s clearly having trouble in her heels. Maybe she’s one of those punks, I mean look at her hair. It’s enormous!
We meet our friends for drinks on the deck. I escape to the restroom to perform a scent check and do a happy dance when I realize I still smell like oranges and bamboo. I decide that panda bears must smell terrific. I then notice a white deodorant streak stretching across my stomach towards my back and realize there is no way I can pull off the amount of class required of me tonight because no amount of rubbing is going to get rid of this smear.

Fortunately, the restaurant was dimly lit with no signs of a black light. Geoff, our friends and I had a tremendously fantastic dinner and in spite of the heat, I smelled like citrus punch all night.

And, my dinner companions didn’t have any idea how utterly embarrassed I was. Nor did they know how much Happy Time deodorant had fallen into in my underwear.

Well… they didn't. Until now.

No, really.
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