Let’s Talk About Simone Biles: Everyday Magic, Day 1043

Let’s talk Simone Biles But first, let’s talk about two gymnasts we don’t know the names of: Elena Mukhina and Julissa Gomez

Elena Mukhina, a 20-year-old Soviet gymnast, broke her neck right before the 1980 Olympics when her coach pushed her to practice her balance beam routine although her broken leg hadn’t yet healed. Doing the now-banned Thomas salto move, she landed on her chin, and she was permanently paralyzed. She died from quadriplegia complications at the age of 46.

Julissa Gomez, a 15-year-old American rising star, a few months before the 1988 Olympics, was having a shaky time on the vault lately. Her coaches insisted she work through her difficulty with a particularly hard vault routine although some of her teammates later said it was clear it wasn’t safe for her to practice that day. Her foot slipped on the springboard and she ended up paralyzed from the neck down, only to later suffer severe brain damage, which put her into a coma. Her family surrounded her with care and love until she died in 1991.

Let’s talk about what it means to be unable to speak up, or to speak up but to be bullied into doing what you know isn’t right for you at the time. Dominique Moceanu, another American gymnast, who suffered a potentially devastating injury in 1996, tweeted in response to applaud Biles’ decision that she and her teammates never felt they had any say in their health.

Let’s think about how athletes are often heroized for working through the pain, competing with broken limbs or sprained joints, pushing themselves despite the likeliness of permanent injuries (and I can’t help thinking here about all the football and soccer players with brain injuries for life).

Let’s also talk about the unimaginable pressure not just of representing a country and the Olympics in a pandemic while carrying the weight of being deemed the greatest gymnast of all time, but also what it means to be a survivor. Matthew Norlander wrote for CBS sports that Biles “….has gone on record and said, sadly, that one of her motivating factors to continue competing was her celebrity and influence on USA Gymnastics. Had she opted to retire prior to these Olympics, Biles felt like USA Gymnastics would not be, as an organization, held as accountable as it should be for its disgraces against dozens of former gymnasts who were abused by former USA Gymnastics trainer Larry Nassar. Biles is the only active gymnast in USA Gymnastics who doubles as a survivor from the Nassar era, and she carries this with her every day she practices, competes, exists as a member of Team USA.” Biles was sexually assaulted by Nassar, a doctor who was supposed to be caring for her health and not damaging it, along with 367 other young women. She wrote in social media how it continually broke her heart to have to return to the same Olympics training facility where she was abused.

Let’s talk about growing up hungry and in the foster care system after being removed from a mother who fed the cat over her four children and how those children clung to each other to survive. Then, when Biles was six, she and her sister were adopted by her grandparents, who she came to call Mom and Dad, but her other sibs went to other family in Ohio. Biles started gymnastics that year and made her world debut in 2013 at age 16.

Let’s talk about love in action for your teammates. Biles is renowned for helping other gymnasts find what they need to succeed, including Jordan Chiles, who moved to Texas to train with Biles (and didn’t give up on her Olympics dream because of Biles). As Biles made clear when she stepped down from competing this week, she believed in her team and knew it was time for them to take the spotlight. Sunisa Lee, in winning the gold medal for the all-around competition, did just that.

Let’s talk about Biles’ brave imagination in continually redefining herself, even saying, “After hearing the brave stories of my friends and other survivors, I know that this horrific experience does not define. I am much more than this.”

Most of all, let’s talk about the powerful grace of Simone Biles’ courage to say no, and to not follow the millions of harsh lights and loud yells to risk her own life and mental health. Biles not only brought to the world four extremely difficult moves named for her but a legacy for athletes, women, women of color, and survivors of sexual abuse to write their own life stories in tune with their wisdom, to listen to what’s right for them and to tell us their truths.

Rematerializing After Being Beamed Up: Everyday Magic, Day 1036

Hello Minnie Mouse eye!

In the Star Trek shows and films, someone can yell out, with grave urgency or casual cheer, “Scotty, beam me up” then off they go. But when they land back in the ship after escaping the clutches of attacking lizard-headed creatures or the like, they often have a moment of looking just a little shaken up (except for Spock of course, who is almost always composed).

Every surgery I’ve been through for is akin to being rematerialized in a new place, perhaps in a way that humans might be if they could be transported through particle accelerators without dissolving or exploding in the process. Then again, surgery is like this: you go into a space transporter device made of anesthesia, then you wake up somewhere else changed in big or little ways. I’ve rematerialized over the years in various expeditions without breasts or with a radioactive disk inserted in my eye. Even after the small surgeries, like having scar tissue and a cataract removed last fall, I came to consciousness changed. I think this is true of eye surgeries especially because while eyes are small, what they see if humongous.

A week ago, I did a short stint in the transporter to have my eyelid sewn in a way that would allow me to finally open and keep open my right eye (the muscles were damaged in treatment for an ocular melanoma). It was a short ride in the transporter because, even through I was thankfully very numb during the procedure, the doctor needed me awake enough to open and close my eye repeatedly and keep looking down at my feet, a trick when lying down, but I’ve had a lot of practice with this over the last two years.

Then I was rolled back to the recovery room, sat up, and, with Ken’s help, put on my jacket and scarf. Then we were home, and as all the marvelous magic of the numbing meds wore away, I hurt but mitigated it with some over-the-counter meds. Then it was the next day, and as the week unfolded, I realized having a much more open eye meant I could see a lot more. But it also meant that I was shaken up in new ways, as if some of me was still in one place and the rest was here. During this full landing in one place, I was dizzy, nauseas, disoriented, eye-strained, and wiped out, which turned out not to be a good match for many Zoom coaching sessions while also working in Google Docs (thanks to my coachees who helpfully rescheduled with me for next week).

As I start to come out of this, rematerializing as a two-eyed seeing creature, there’s a lot to grapple with, namely that my right eye — surprise! because I couldn’t see this for so long — seems to be Minnie-Mouse-dilated, likely permanently (but I will find out more about that soon). This explains why this magic and challenged eye sees a much brighter and at times light-blasted world than my left eye. Of course, I’m also legally blind in this eye, which is a strange way of saying I can see with it but in the language of impressionist paintings.

But there’s mainly joy here in Mudville, especially as the nausea relents (thank you, candied ginger and time), of seeing a vaster scope, and when I look in the mirror, seeing both eyes open and learning their new recalibration dance of tracking together. One thing that continually dazzles me is how the eyes can innovate and reset themselves to find new ways to team up, very much like the heart as we go through another $%&#@# learning adventure.

As we find our way to the other side of the transport, all has the potential to wake us up to nuances and vistas of this world. I’m reminded of what Antoine de Saint-Exupéry writes in The Little Prince: “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” True that, but also, what becomes more visible to the eye can show the heart how to see.

A Guide to Your Vaccine Sorting Hat Horoscope: Everyday Magic, Day 1035

As more of us absorb the wizardry of the vaccine, where we end up might well be up to the whims of an enchanted sorting hat, just like in the Harry Potter books. Although it’s not a choice between Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin at Hogwart’s School, it’s not like we enter into the great hall of a high school gym or fairgrounds barn with much choice of which vaccine will live in us. The sentient sorting hat of our time is surely up to its pointy tip in overtime, determining whether we move to the Johnson and Johnson high rise or the Pfizer mansion.

So I started doing some research (aka making shit up), and I’m happy to share with you your horoscope for your vaccine house.*

Pfizer: You’re a person who needs to be as sure as possible, so you prefer to align with tried and true tradition and old money even if it was all tested long before current varieties of our time. You’re also quite delicate on occasion and tend to run cold, but nevertheless a strong contender. While most likely able to succeed winningly at all your endeavors, you don’t take to transitions well, particularly if you must endure heated delays of any kind. Your Achilles Heel is body aches. Your favorite color is royal blue, your most memorable meal is ice cream cake followed by espresso stored in dry ice, and your happy place is either the Arctic tundra or at a disco in Rio where the D.J. can’t stop playing Daft Punk songs. Your helper animal is either an illusive giraffe or a well-fed raccoon.

Moderna: You’re willing to be an upstart and take your chances, but you’re a product of nouveau wealth wanting the same security as the old money. You know how to make things happen quickly and how to outwit competitors, but you’re also prone to headaches and long naps more than you would like to admit. You generally like people and make friends at lightning speed. Your favorite color is dollar-bill green, you enjoy a Pina Colada (but not any songs about the drink), and your happy place is at Burning Man right before anyone has set up camp. Your animal, a de-scented skunk, travels with you everywhere you go although she has a mind of her own and often escapes to lurid night clubs instead of helping you transport your precious creations. You also enjoy long autumnal walks in New England, but only when you’re not working, which is never.

Johnson & Johnson: You’re a one-and-done maverick who’s willing to take your chances to get ‘er done quickly and easily. You’re also easy on the eyes. While you come from ancient tradition dating back to clan with names no one can pronounce, you’re not exactly a chip off the old horse even if the donkey is your protector animal. You believe in hard work and family connections, but you’re also practical enough to make a splash with doing things your own way. Your color is blood red, your bar order is either a gin and tonic or a Shirley Temple, and your happy place is at a refurbished tennis court at 6 a.m. in the Hamptons. Your idea of fun entails Lear jet flights back and forth over the U.S. while counting clouds and singing ABBA songs.

Astrazeneca: You have an international flair and a penance for adventure. Some might say you’re not reliable, particularly with younger people, but you’re a dark horse that may surprise us all. You have an amazing propensity to prove people wrong about your intentions although you do like to build followers on social media whenever you have a free moment. With a British father and Swedish mother, you know something about aging royalty, effective compromise, and also how to play multiple card games during hundreds of overcast days. Your color is orange, your favorite meal involves herring on toast, and your happy place is anyplace in Africa with a large urban population. Your animal is a happy puma.

*The first three vaccines are currently available in the U.S., and obviously there are more vaccine houses around the world to be considered, but my divination skills only go so far.

A Visit to Scan Land: Everyday Magic, Day 1033

Why, yes, I’m drinking some iodine solution pre-scan. It just tastes like heavy water.

“I’m here for my monogram,” a silver-haired woman told the receptionist. “Yes, your mammogram,” the receptionist answered without missing a beat. Obviously, she had heard such variations before, and this is the way of Scan Land, where many — if not all of us — go every so often to make sure there’s nothing anxious or life-threatening growing, or growing too much, on our insides.

Yesterday, I returned to Scan Land for my quarterly CT scan or MRI to ensure that no micrometastases from my ocular melanoma were taking up residence in my liver or lungs. “How many of these have we done so far?” Ken asked me yesterday as we sat in the waiting room, me sipping the iodine water necessary for my CAT scan. I counted on my fingers: at least nine quarterly scans, and that doesn’t count the dozens of eye ultrasounds (amazing how you can get used to a tiny device moving back and forth on your eyeball) and another kind of scan that entails staring deep into a machine to watch the fires of Mordor.

I’ve made many excursions to Scan Land since 2002 when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Because I’m a carrier of the BRCA 1 genetic mutation (which increases risk for breast, ovarian, and other cancers) and because my dad and uncle died of pancreatic cancer, I was going annually for a CAT scan or MRI for years. With the scans related to the more recent cancer, if I could earn frequent flyer miles for all the hours I’ve spent in Scan Land, I could circle the globe.

To be honest, the scans aren’t painful, and because I’ve struggled with tight-spaces anxiety, they sure aren’t boring. But thanks to work with my therapist, meditation, medication, and if it’s a closed MRI, serious drugs, I’ve been able to get through them. That said, I’ve also experienced some of my worst panic attacks lying on a platform going in and out of a machine. I’ll never forget the 45-minute-long PET scan in a traveling scan-mobile parked outside the hospital which I hyperventilated and cried through before slowing my breath enough to see myself wandering a desert for a long night, searching for some sense of peace while reminding myself that this big, bad machine wasn’t going to hurt me.

I’ve worked through a lot of my scan issues, and yesterday, I did my first scan without any medication, and although I started to feel that rushing fight-or-flight sensation in my stomach, I remembered to breathe and listen to the song (Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years” — even if it’s from a vampire movie) I always play on my ear buds. So now I’m mostly left with the end point for all who visit Scan Land: the results.

No matter what the results are, they are always extraordinary: good (thank heavens!), bad (Oh my God!) or ambiguous (Oh no!). We inhabits of the waiting rooms — before the scan and before the doctor’s visit to tell us the results — aren’t a cheery bunch for the most part, most of us somewhere between scared, hopeful, numb, resigned, sad, distracted, and freaked out. Waiting for the results is often the worst part of wrangling with cancer and other life-smashing illnesses.

Some doctors use the I’ll-call-you-if-it’s-fine-but-you-have-to-come-in-if-it’s-not approach, which makes for a terrifying drive to the doctor’s office, knowing bad news, possibly life-shortening, is about to assault us. Luckily, my oncologist has a better way: I have my scan in the morning, then go to her office at 1 p.m. no matter the results, which gives the worst of my imaginative capacities little time to get too riled up. Still, I usually have a twinge.

Then again, scans have saved my life more than once. A mammogram caught my breast cancer early enough that I could survive it. A constellation of eye and other scans led me to treatment in June of 2019 that so far (and continuing for many years to come, I hope, I hope, I hope) saved me. Yesterday was another clear scan, and once again I’m overwhelmingly grateful for my short trek in and out of this big donut-hole-shaped machine.

I remember years ago at my oncologist’s office seeing two women — one middle-aged and one older, a mother and daughter — walk in the door clutching each other and sobbing. They were sure they were there for bad news, and it was hard for them to answer the receptionist’s questions as she checked them in. Eventually, they were called back to meet with the doctor as was I. When I was checking out, they were too, and this time they were crying for a different reason. They had gotten good news, and they were so overcome with relief and joy that they couldn’t stop weeping. I had gotten good results too that day, a good day in Scan Land for us all.

Life (and Tinnitus) in the Key of G: Everyday Magic, Day 1030

Finding the key on our purple (made in Lawrence) piano

Last night, I found that my tinnitus buzzes and hums in the key of G. How did I find this? By singing in key with the tinnitus while pressing piano keys.

Making music out of misfortune is sometimes the order of the day, especially when I’m encased in a cocoon of hearing the workings of my own brain. That’s somewhat what tinnitus is, according to this succinct and brilliant video with Marc Fagelson, who says, “Experiencing tinnitus is like eavesdropping on your brain talking to itself although it may not be a conversation you want to hear.”

Then again, those of us (something like one in seven) with tinnitus don’t have much of a choice. How I got here wasn’t exactly by choice either, but rather a Rube Goldberg (no relation, just resonance) contraption of events. Over the last six months I’ve been immersed in the sport of extreme dentistry because the radiation treatment for my ocular melanoma wreaked havoc on my teeth. With upwards of 20 cavities, including many under caps, I’ve had close to 20 visits to the dentist, oral surgeon and endodontist. Almost all included drilling in various pitches, and yes, it turns out dental drilling can cause or worsen tinnitus (no, earplugs won’t help because the drilling is happening inside the head)

I’ve been running my own science experiment in my brain, and after each dental visit, someone turns the volume up on what was once a barely detectable buzz-hum-sing-roaring, sometimes so much that it wakes me up at night. So what’s a gal to do? Take to the internet and research the hell out of this of course, but I’ve also been telling people, which brings me a lot of stories of how people all around me have been living with tinnitus and other hearing quirks and limitations. There’s no cure, but there’s ways to make friends with this condition, which for me mainly takes the form of not storying this up with terms like “cancer’s collateral damage,” but instead telling myself tinnitus isn’t really unpleasant, and it’s more akin to be wrapped in multiple blankets of white noise. Sometimes it’s even soothing.

I’ve also recommitted to my wiggly meditation practice, changing my 5-minutes-of-meditation-when-I-feel-like-it to 18 minutes a day no matter what. While sitting quietly is a sure way to hear the loudest ocean of tinnitus engulfing me, it also gives me time to just be with it without thrashing against the walls of no such thing as pure silence. I also play music a lot, which helps somewhat mask tinnitus, and last night I stumbled upon singing along with it, then taking to the piano where I found it lived in the key of G. I then read today about how making and being in sounds that correlate to the same pitch is a practice called energetic masking.

So here I am, living life in the key of G, the letter that begins my maiden name of Goldberg but also goodness, google, God, guess, goobsmacked, Gaia, granola, gratitude, Gandalf, giving, grief, giraffe, grass, gravy, and grace. It’s not such bad company — and hey, a lot of these G’s are the very stuff of life — even if it’s sometimes a loud party of its own strange music.