Decisions Decisions

photo 2(2)I’m standing in line at the Tim Horton’s down the hall from the University Avenue entrance to Toronto General Hospital. There are seven people ahead of me. I’ve gotten into the habit of grabbing a coffee and an everything bagel with cream cheese on my way home after my plasma exchange treatment. And so, here I am, waiting in line, now five people behind, backs of heads and glimpses of profiles, five strangers between me and the comfort of routine, the surety that I know what will happen in the next few minutes, that I know at least what I will be tasting. I have spent the last several hours not knowing what will happen next. I have spent the last several hours unable to control my fate. But now, here I am, four people ahead of me, two couples, four smiling profiles. It’s break time. Time for a caffeine pick-me-up. A small double double and an everything bagel with plain cream cheese, please. Just one more couple. And now I’m next.
“Hi. Small double double and an everything bagel with plain cream cheese, please.”
“Oh… let me check…,” she turns around. “Is there any everything bagels? No? No,” she turns back around to face a trembling me. “No, I’m sorry ma’am. We don’t have any everything. You want sesame, 12 grain, plain, cheddar, cinnamon raisin, ..”
And my heart is racing and I don’t know what to do. I cannot make a decision. My face contorts and tears start pouring down my cheeks and I am frozen in place and I don’t know what to do and there dozens and dozens of people behind me, angry that I can’t just make up my mind. It’s just a stupid bagel. Just pick any stupid bagel. And my mind is as blank and as turbulent as the biting winds on the bitter Arctic tundra and I don’t know what to do, so I turn around and I head down the hall to the exit, past the three people behind me, looking perplexed and compassionate at the clearly distraught woman walking away with her head hanging down.

Yeah. I’ve been there. Those Tim’s workers have seen me at my worst: pale, crusty, bandages wrapped right around my chest, my mouth weary as it tries to work up enough saliva to get out a raspy “orange juice, please”. They’ve seen me with my chest as bound as I had felt for months. The bleeding I was having was bad, but it only fueled this “what if” and “bad stuff” smoldering that was already choking me from inside. Every complication, every little pain, every big pain, each second-guessed decision, it all melts together into one insurmountable lump in my throat and I swallow it down, but it always comes back up and it grows bigger and bigger and… usually I can control this. I can keep it at bay until I’m alone. But for a long time now, I haven’t been able to. It’s just too big and there’s always more crap being thrown into the fire. It just comes out. I’m that teary girl on the subway, discreetly wiping her eyes like nobody notices. I’m that girl who just stopped and is standing on the corner looking confused and broken because she just can’t decide which way to go. I’m that girl who is staring and blocking everyone’s carts because I simply cannot decide which specific apples to get. And I leave empty-handed. Yes, sometimes I’m the asshole in everyb0dy’s way. And I’ve had just about enough of it.

I want to be that girl who takes it all in stride, and for the most part I kind of am. But it builds up, you know? Like, holy shit, this is big. Like, they’re going to take out my fucking liver big. Like, I could seriously die big. Like, it’s going to get worse before it gets better big. Like, it might never get better big. It’s a way different big than, say, the fact that I could also get hit by a bus at any time or make some stupid, autopilot mistake and end up with a Darwin award. Those are all true, but they don’t feel like it. I don’t live in terror of getting hit by a bus… yet. If this lump becomes a mountain, I know I will end fearing breathing, because each breath could be my last. That’s not really living, not cherishing life, that’s just waiting to die.

But the thing is, I’m not sure when normal, healthy reactions to terrifying circumstances become pathological. When sliding down from shit scared to choosing-the-wrong-apple-will-kill-me, I’ve never noticed a signpost that read: “Attention, you are now entering Full On Flapjack Banananana Fo Fack She Shack Shellac Dack Oh Hiya Mack Boogie On Down Crazy Town. Proceed with caution.” No one gave me a tourist map with a clearly marked highway out of town. So I just keep sliding.

Anyway, I have to leave now for Toronto Western Hospital. And one thing that will surely give me a little more traction and maybe slow me down is my most favourite of infographics in all of the TWH Liver Clinic:

Coffee may reduce liver scarring



Buddy and The Potato: a tale of two tubers and the couch they call home

The Potatoes

Buddy (right) and The Potato (left) discuss important couch matters

Way back in that whimsical and Aqua Net-drunk year of 1987, a young Kaarina was given a most huggable friend. Yes, before there were flowers in sunglasses, elves on shelves, or any toy ever dancing the Macarena, for a glorious period shorter than Rico Suave’s blip in pop culture history, Coleco brought us Couch Potatoes.

Young Kaarina named her new friend Bud the Spud, after a Stompin’ Tom song, but he prefers Buddy for short. He’s an easy breezy potato, having grown up with plenty of hugs in small town Northern Ontario. But, alas, all things must grow and Kaarina was no exception. Just ten years later, she moved away and Buddy was packed in a box.

Ten years after saying goodbye to Buddy, Kaarina found herself browsing the aisles at her favourite thrift store in Toronto. What’s this?, she thought as she caught sight of familiar green armchair packaging. Yes, it was a Couch Potato, mint, for $3.97. Oh happy day!

So, The Potato came home. He was guarded at first. He hadn’t grown up with the hugs and support that Buddy did. He didn’t yet understand about the power of love and friendship. But he would. He had a breakthrough when he realized that Kaarina could have sold him on eBay, but she never would because he’s her potato and she’s his person. In this disposable day and age, that really means something, dammit! And so The Potato opened his heart, even to Prince, and everyone was richer for it.

The Potato didn’t really come into his own, though, until he perched himself on his couch for the first time. All those years in the thrift system, The Potato had dreamt of having his very own couch. Oh, he’d seen couches come and go. Floral sofas, elegant chaise longues, stained couches, torn couches, cushionless frames. Yeah, he’d seen a lot of shit in the system. But he whiled away the days dreaming of better times, of couches as bright as the sun, where potatoes’ wishes always came true and no one would dare donate a bag of t-shirts soaked in fresh urine ever again!

And so Kaarina declared the Couch to be a Nation within the Nation of the Apartment. The Potato has full political power on the couch and he is kind enough to open his borders to Kaarina and guests, just as he had opened his heart.

One jolly Christmas, Kaarina went to visit her parents and found a bevy of boxes to sort through. And in one of those boxes, she found her Buddy. Yes, Kaarina was blessed with two potatoes.

There is a clear hierarchy on the Couch. The Potato is the Supreme Potato, but Buddy would step in should The Potato be unable, for whatever reason, to perform his coucherly duties. Buddy’s easy going attitude helps to keep The Potato in check, as he tends to get a little neurotic. They make a great tandem tuber team and the Couch is run smoothly and efficiently, making it a most pleasant place to curl up for a nap.

Well, fuck, eh?


Yep, that there is heterochromia, two different coloured eyes.

Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Kaarina and I’m not doing so well. See, nearly ten years ago I was diagnosed with limited systemic scleroderma and primary biliary cirrhosis. If you’ve ever heard of those diseases, let’s face it, you’ve probably heard some pretty horrible things. And, let’s be honest, I’ve been through some pretty horrible things over the last decade.

Hell, I’ve been through some pretty horrible things today.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve circled through the five stages of loss, mourning another layer of shed skin. Round and round and upside down I go, through dark tunnels and over cliffs so high my stomach comes up to meet my mouth and my lips pull back into a gruesomely absurd open-mouthed grin, my guts on display for the whole world to see.

And that’s just Thursdays.

Yeah. It’s been weighing on me.

My two main activities as of late have been sleeping and openly weeping.

And watching Downton Abbey and, trust me, nobody is more surprised by that than me.

The thing is, I’ve been downright depressed and the worse things get, the more I want to isolate myself. Even from the potatoes. I feel like I could infect everyone with my sadness and we’ll never be the same again.

Nobody ever said depression made sense.

Even though I know it will pass (and it always does), it’s so *fucking* hard.

Stick around. You’ll see.

Because, this here is my life, glitz and shits alike. It’s who I’ve been, who I am, and, for posterity when I’m gone, who I was when I had my beautiful life. I will feel better, and I will show you why people keep telling me I’m strong. One thing that I want to make clear is that my life is not a tragedy. There’s a lot of awesome. A lot.

And, oh yes, there will be selfies.

You’ll see.