This Is the Biggest Parenting Nightmare for a Germaphobe

It’s public-restroom changing tables. There, previewers, I saved you a click.

If you’re still with me, I’ll explain. Public changing tables are predictably loathsome. They’re in a public restroom, obviously, so they’re covering in filth both visible and invisible. Visible: actual feces, more often than seems reasonable or even possible. Invisible: IDK, C.diff? The plague? Hepatitis Q?

I was expecting the filth aspect. Before Katie arrived, while I was still bloated and weary with preeclampsia and lounging around while Adam nested for me, he ordered several pouches of Clorox wipes for disinfecting public changing areas and anything else that was giving me slow feelings of death. This had the dual effect of preparing for our baby and calming some of my zanier fears about being a parent.

Perhaps you are one of those people who goes blithely about her business, walking down city streets without picturing falling air conditioners and getting on ferries without worrying about forgetting not to throw your eyeglasses and your purse and perhaps your shoes over the side. If so, I respect but do not understand you.

I have a lot of fears in general, is my point. Parenting added to the pile.

One of them was using a public restroom to change a baby. In my mind, I would enter the restroom with a pink, healthy infant, and leave with a sickly green ghoul covered in sores. The baby would have acquired a number of festering bandages during its time in the bathroom, and also a snarl punctuated by one slightly yellow broken tooth.

Like most of my parenting fears, it turned out that my worries were wholly justified but just slightly off the mark. Public restrooms are repulsive, but I had all these wipes now. Surely I could mitigate the filth factor with good, old-fashioned bleach substitute, right?

I failed to factor in the baby.

My baby is four months old now, which means that I’m basically parenting an octopus who’s been in a horrible accident. She has four limbs instead of eight, but despite these limitations, she’s still much smarter than me. Plus, each limb seems to have its own brain and once I get one under control, the other brain-limbs slither out and start touching absolutely everything in sight — a stranger’s lunch or breasts, any stray electrical outlet … the feces-covered changing table in the bathroom at the diner.

I’m shuddering as I write this, because the changing table at the diner was covered in literal feces, and I attempted to use it anyway, because I was in denial about what I was seeing.

Let me explain. It’s Sunday, but I had to work today, because I’m a freelancer who’s attempting to do without childcare and that’s how that goes. Adam and I were both feeling bummed out about that, so I offered to take an hour or three off in the morning to get some brunch.

After a few reversals — two bottles, a diaper change, and finding out our local place was closed for August vacation — we wound up at a diner about 15 minutes away from home. We’d never been to this diner. That’s important, as you’ll see in a minute.

Shortly after we settled in and placed our orders, Katie started crying.

“Ah wuh wuh wuh,” she said.

“Why is this baby crying?” I asked, as Adam unbuckled her from her car seat.

He took a big whiff of her pants region. “Whew,” he said. “I think we have poopy.” And then, because he’s a 21st century kind of dad, he grabbed the diaper bag and headed for the restroom.

A few minutes later, he returned.

“No changing table in the men’s,” he said apologetically. “But I can take her to the car.”

“Let me check the ladies’,” I said, and went off to do that. No dice.

Finally, a nice waitress pointed us at another bathroom that had a changing table — women’s room only. After Adam spent a few frustrating minutes waiting in vain for it to clear out, I took over.

And there encountered the poopy changing table.

It looked fine at first. It was that light brown rugged plastic that they loved in the ’80s, so it was hard to see whether it was clean. I got out my wipes, dodging a small child and her mother who were trying to wash their hands nearby, and somehow balanced the baby and my pack while I swabbed off the table. Then, I laid out my changing mat and plopped the baby — now complaining at being held around the waist for so long — on the mat and got to work.

“Guh guh guh,” Katie said.

All four chubby baby limbs immediately squirted out and started exploring their environment. And that’s when I saw it: poop smears on the very top of the table, where it would fold up when not in use … and Katie’s little ravioli hand inching toward it.

With a shriek, I scooped up my baby, the mat, my pack, the wipes, and the tattered shreds of my sanity and stomped back into the restaurant to get my car keys.

“Was it OK?” the nice waitress asked.

“NO. THERE WAS POOP ON IT,” I said, verging on hysteria.

“Oh, yikes,” she said, looking nervous. As anyone would, when confronted with a crazy lady holding a wiggling infant and the disjected contents of her diaper bag.

“Ah-goo,” Katie explained. “Eeeeehhhhhh. Ehhhhhhh.”

Adam was at the table, where our food had arrived. “How was it?”


Later, he told me that the cheese on his Monte Cristo smelled a little like poop, and when I said poop, for a minute he thought his sandwich was contaminated. He ate it anyway. Parents are typically ravenous and it’s always a treat not to eat over the sink, even if brunch smells like poop.

“Let me take her to the car and change her,” he said.

“No, I got this,” I said, snatching the keys off the table.

“Eeeeeeh,” Katie said, swinging her legs as I stomped back through the diner, down the ramp, and into the hundred-degree parking lot, sweat already running into my eyes.

I’ll spare you the blow by blow of changing a baby in a diner parking lot, but here are the important parts:

  • The poop was contained in the diaper. It hadn’t reached the belly button or the pants. This is A Good Poop, in parenting parlance.
  • The baby was giving me very frightened and very grown-up side eye the whole time. It might have been because I was red-faced and sweating and it might have been because I was muttering, “Poop! Who leaves POOP everywhere? These are the people who pee on toilet seats. POOP.”
  • After I was done changing her and was tying off the plastic bag with the diaper in it, I took my eye off the baby for one second and when I looked up, she was chewing on the changing mat. The changing mat that was just on the poopy changing table. Whereupon I had a heart attack and died and now I’m typing to you from the afterlife.

“How did it go?” Adam asked, once we were settled and eating french toast and Monte Cristo sandwiches. We took turns holding our little octopus, who felt so good now that her butt was clean, she had to spend maximum energy charming the older couple seated next to us.

“The baby has staph all over her body and also hepatitis and probably TB,” I said.

“Oh, if that’s all,” he said, and took a bite of his poopy-smelling sandwich.

“I just have to tell you, your little boy is beautiful,” said the woman seated next to us.

“Yes, she is,” I said with my mouth full.

“Heeee!” said Katie.

Pictured: an octopus



My Fasting Blood Sugar Was 105 in the Middle of a Diet and Someone Is Going to Pay

Not the lovely, talented creator of said diet, and not the nice Russian man who took my blood sample at the lab. Not even my thyroid doctor, who is the person who wrote the prescription for the blood work (and is therefore obviously responsible for the results). Obviously not me, because I was eating nothing but leaves and organic meat during the phase when I had blood drawn. But someone is going to pay, somewhere, and when I find out who it is, I’ll let you know.

I’m thinking that eastern Europe is responsible, or at least the version of it that existed hundreds of years ago, since conditions then were such that a person with a very slow metabolism and a low tolerance for sugary foods would do well. My ancestors were basically bred for starvation, not plenty. We were the last people standing once the food died and the government had driven everyone away from their land and everyone else had starved to death. I picture us, hungry but still chubby, rooting around in the earth and finding one last turnip with delight: “A turnip! Our family can last two weeks on that. Look, Dorota, it’s Christmas dinner!”

But enough of the ancestors. My problem right now is trying to get a straight answer out of someone, in terms of what to do next. My regular doctor says my A1-C is fine, and that I don’t have diabetes. My thyroid doctor says, well, let me see if I can remember the quote. It went something like, “You’re fine … today. I mean, you’re not going to keel over next year, or anything.” He wasn’t thrilled with consistent fasting sugars around the 100 mark, though, and neither am I.

The problem is, once you’re losing weight and monitoring your labs and trying, as Monty Python once advised us, to get some walking in, there’s not much you can do with a slightly too-high sugar. Eat cinnamon, I guess. My thyroid doc advised that, and I’ve heard it can help. Also, cinnamon is delicious. I bet my ancestors would be delighted at that prescription, if they could get their hands on it.


Image: ICanHasCheezburger

Everything Is Killing You: When a Broken Back Is Good News

Everything Is Killing You” is an ongoing series about my weirdo health problems and things I think you should be worried about.

A week or so ago, I finally got an answer to the question that had been plaguing me the past couple months. (The question, in case you forgot, was “What the eff is going on with my back?”)

“It says here that — at some point in your childhood — you broke your fifth lumbar vertebra,” my rheumatologist said. The rheumatologist was a recent addition to the team. She had cute boots that I’d like to get, if my back ever cooperates again.

My mouth literally hung open.


She shrugged. “It’s hard to say.”

“It doesn’t have, like, rings or something?”

She smiled. “That’s a tree.”

I also have some arthritis in the fourth and fifth vertebrae, and, as the radiologist described it, an exuberant growth of bone. Plus, bursitis, which may or may not be related to the injury, but was definitely worthy of getting a giant shot of cortisone in the left-hand keister. But no ankylosing spondylitis, and no new horrible diseases.

“I don’t think it’s even related to the Behcet’s disease,” she said, tapping the screen thoughtfully. “At this point, if you’ve had a mild case for this long, it’s likely that you’ll avoid real complications.”

I burst into tears of relief, which seemed to surprise her, although I’d think any specialist that deals in potentially crippling diseases would be used to tears. If I were her, I’d dispense with the tissues and just put buckets everywhere, like spittoons in an old west saloon.

I made Adam come with me from the shot, which didn’t hurt much going in, but ached like a bastard for a week afterward. I didn’t care. I’ve never been happier to be in pain in my life. All I could think was that I’d escaped.

Every time I think I have a horrible disease and it turns out to be something else, I feel like I’ve won. A psychologist would have a field day with that — and many have. I guess the upside is that it gives me a pretty positive attitude about mechanical difficulties in the old bod. I still have to have a few weeks of physical therapy, but I’m happy to do it.

Image: Knitted Skeleton by Ben Cuevas

Everything Is Killing You: That Thing of When It Turns Out That Maybe You Really Do Have a Weird Disease

Everything Is Killing You” is an ongoing series on things I think you should be worried about.

A month ago, I got off the treadmill at the gym and felt a twinge in my left hip. I rolled my eyes, stretched, showered, took some Ibuprofen, and tried to put it out of my mind. I’m really, really good at injuring myself doing stupid things. I’ll never be that person who breaks her arm sky diving. I’m more likely to be the person who breaks her arm Dumpster diving. Or better yet, I’m the person who walks down the street and puts my foot down wrong for no reason at all and winds up with a sprained ankle that takes three months to heal.

It was January, and I was doing my semi-annual fitness purge, so I went to the gym a few more times in the next week or so. By the time ten days had elapsed, my hip was definitely bothering me for real. The little muscle that runs from the inside of your leg to the front of your thigh felt strained, but worse than that, the actual hip joint felt … stuck.

“My actual hip joint feels kind of stuck,” I told my chiropractor.

“That’s no good!” he said. “We’ll fix that.”

And he did. Crack, crack, all better. Before I left, considerably relieved, he said, “You know, I looked at your chart, and this happens to you every year in January.”

“No way, really?”

“Yup, last January, and the one before that.” Which made me realize that I’ve been with my chiropractor only slightly less time than I’ve been with my husband.

“Why do you think that is?” I asked him.

“I don’t know. I was wondering if you had any thoughts.” He looked at me significantly, in that way that I never care for, because it means, I am a nice person, and will not be the first person to mention that maybe this problem is psychosomatic.

“Must be all that travel,” I said evenly.

He nodded and let me go on my way. If my hip was still bothering me next month, he’d probably bug me about it then, but the better part of valor, for a chiropractor, is not pestering your clients about their weird mind-body issues.

While I was waiting for the elevator outside his office, I shifted my weight to my left leg, and felt my hip joint catch again.

“No, no, no,” I muttered, shaking my leg as if trying to dislodge a bunch of snakes that had crawled into my pant cuff. The elevator doors opened and everyone inside studiously avoided looking at me as they got out and I got in. I trying shifting my weight again, standing up straight, snapping the joint. Nothing helped.

I went home, and put my foot up, vaguely hoping that gravity would draw the inflammation away from my hip and give me an enormous Kardashian ass or something instead. I put ice on the joint, then heat. I tried Ibuprofen. Then I did what hypochondriacs always do: I tried Dr. Google.

“You might try going to a regular doctor,” my husband suggested, when he came home from class and found me Googling in-joint tumors and weird bone diseases.

“I really hate going to the doctor,” I said.

“Yeah, but it doesn’t seem like you’re having much luck on your own.”

“Actually, I’m having a tremendous lot of luck. For instance, I’ve discovered this horrible disease called ankylizing spondylosis that rots your whole skeleton and turns you into a perfect replica of the letter C. I’m pretty sure that’s the one I have.”

Adam looked over my shoulder, “I think that’s ankylosing spondylitis, actually. And I’m not sure it rots your skeleton.”

“It starts in the hip joint,” I said, pointing at my screen. “I’m almost positive that’s what I have. It’s even related to the weirdo autoimmune disorder I already have. Oh my God. I’m going to need a cane. Possibly a walker. Almost definitely a wheelchair. Will you still love me, when I have to be rolled around after you in a giant plastic bubble like a gerbil?”

“It can start in the sacroiliac joint, and it sometimes occurs in people who have Behcet’s disease, but it doesn’t necessarily,” he said, looking at his phone, which has a magic app on it that gives you real information about diseases. Because of meanness, they restrict this app to nursing and other medical students, keeping it away from people like me, who really need it. “Hey, I’ve got an idea: how about if you call your doctor, and ask him?”

I did. They gave me an appointment in two weeks, which is the perfect amount of time to really obsess about possibly receiving horrible news. In the meantime, I spoke with my shrink.

“If it’s not this ankolosing whatever, do you think it could be psychosomatic?” I asked her.

“It could be,” she said. “Although, as you know, if it is psychosomatic, that doesn’t mean it’s made up.”

“So how does that work? I get tense and then my muscles get tense and then I decide that I have a horrible injury and get even more tense?”

“Well, sort of. Depression and back issues are often interrelated.”

“I’m still really worried that it’s this … arthritis-y thingie.”

“When do you have your appointment?”

“Next week.”

“Well, let me know how it goes.”

Appointment day finally came. As you might recall from my earlier whinings, I used to have a nurse practitioner whom I particularly loved. Unfortunately, she left the practice, but the doctor I see now appears to be just as nice, so far. He’s sympathetic, but also seems to have twigged to the fact that I’m often worried about things that are not necessarily related to real-life problems.

Sample comment from our previous visit: “OK, so, we’ll get you the A1c, for the diabetes, which you don’t have, and I’ll call in a week, with your results. Which will be fine.”

So you can imagine my concern when he listened to my litany of complaint about my hip, looked at my chart on his screen, and said, “I want you to see a rheumatologist.”

Up til that point, we’d been handling my autoimmune troubles through his office. It hadn’t been a problem, because my symptoms were pretty stable. Every six months, I’d need a blood test to make sure my liver wasn’t borked from my medications. Other than that, I was free to go on my merry way, ignoring the existence of the actual medical profession while relentlessly diagnosing myself with horrible diseases over the internet.

“OK,” I said. “Why?”

“I’m concerned that it might be related to the Behcet’s, or that it could be a related condition,” he said.

“Ankylosing spondylitis.”

He nodded. “Possibly.”


“Well,” I said, trying to look on the bright side, “I was thinking I should get a rheumatologist anyway, because I’ll need to figure out what to do about my meds while I’m pregnant.”

“When are you thinking of trying to conceive?”

“We were thinking about a year and a half, when my husband’s done with school.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t put that off too long,” he said, looking at my chart again on the computer. “You’re what, 36?”

“I know. I know that. But anyway, I thought it’d be good to talk to someone ahead of time, sort of make a plan. I mean, I’d hate to accidentally get pregnant and then be like, Whoops! Guess I need to figure out what to do.

“If you accidentally get pregnant,” he said, gently. “I’ll be very, very, happy for you. But….”

To be honest, I couldn’t deal with that conversation, so I let it go. I didn’t want to get into whether he thought I’d was barren because I’m a thousand years old, or because of my medical history, or whether he had some kind of psychic powers that told him, just by looking at a woman, whether her womb was full of dust and tumbleweeds. I just took my enormous sheet of referrals — rheumatologist, sports medicine doctor, with the attendant complicated insurance information — and left the office. I still think he’s very nice, and all, but we’re sort of in a fight he doesn’t know about, anyway.

Tomorrow, I have my first appointment with the sports medicine person. I’m trying to be as chipper about the whole thing as possible, but I have to tell you, it sort of feels like I used The Secret in reverse. Remember a couple of years ago, when everyone and Oprah Winfrey was convinced that we could manifest our goals and dreams by thinking about them real hard? Well, as I ponder tomorrow’s appointment, I wonder if I did that, but the wrong way around.

Then I remember that The Secret is bullshit and feel a little better right away. Manifest my ass, universe. And while you’re at it, see if you can arrange for this problem to be a pulled muscle and mild mental illness, not a serious problem. Please, thanks, etc.

Pictured: Me in The Secret Memorial Rest Home for Professional Crazy People.
Pictured: Me in “The Secret” Memorial Rest Home for Professional Crazy People.


Everything Is Killing You: A Hypochondriac Explains Why You Should Be Worried

“Everything Is Killing You” is an ongoing series on things I think you should be worried about.

One night, I wake up with a pain in my right side, just under my ribs. Panic immediately grips me. Your liver is on the right, as well as your pancreas. Both organs seem to exist solely to grow tumors and wall off their own ducts and murder you. Eventually, my husband wakes up, I assume because my frantic massaging of the sore spot has alerted him to a crisis. On nights like this, he probably feels like we have a water bed, or are living on a raft at sea.

“What’s going on?” he mumbles.

“I have a pain,” I whisper regretfully. “In my side. I think it’s my liver.”

“Under your ribs? On the right?”


“In your hypochondriac region?” I’m not sure, but I think I hear a tiny bit of mirth in his voice. Days earlier, he came home from class, filled with joy. That day, he told me, they learned that hypochondria is named for a space under the ribs; coincidentally, a place that I and most other hypochondriacs imagine pains them.

“What are you actually worried about?” he asks. He has known me long enough to know that when something hurts, all of a sudden, displaced hysteria is probably more likely than a blood clot.

But I don’t know what I’m worried about, so I go to the doctor. Actually, I go see my nurse practitioner, who is very beautiful and smells just like a birthday cake. I’m more comfortable with nurses than doctors, generally. My mother is a nurse, and my husband is training to be one. I seem to be compelled to surround myself with sympathetic but bemused professionals who think I’m mildly hilarious.

“Sure, we can do a liver panel,” my nurse says, with barely suppressed glee. “You’re on enough medication that it’s a good idea to do that every so often anyway.”

“I know I’m a crazy person,” I tell her. “But I just want to be sure.”

“You’re so self-aware!” she says. I really feel that she genuinely likes me. She hugs me when I arrive, and never quite asks, in so many words, what the problem is this time. I feel like that must take a lot of restraint.

Two weeks later, the liver panel comes back. Everything is perfect. I could metabolize a sea of gin. Immediately, my pain disappears.

This has happened to me before. Sometimes, it seems, the only thing wrong with me is that I need an expert, someone smarter than me, to tell me that everything is going to be OK. I sometimes think of starting a hotline for similarly inclined people: You’d call a number, and a soothing voice would tell you, after listening to your problems, that everything is going to be just fine.

The trouble with being a hypochondriac is that I, like all pessimists, am eventually doomed to be right. One day, I’ll limp into the nurse’s office, complaining of a phantom pain, and she’ll actually find something. I’m not sure whether I’ll be more terrified or relieved when that happens. Who was that person whose gravestone read, “I told you I was sick”?

Although, maybe that won’t happen. Maybe I’ll be hit by a bus, or killed by terrorists. Maybe I’ll live to be 91, like famous hypochondriac John Adams, complaining the whole time that any minute, it’ll all be over. Certainly, if my own personal history is any guide, the thing that gets me won’t be any of the diseases I’ve so meticulously worried about all these years. I’ve diagnosed myself with everything from cancer to hepatitis, but I never saw thyroid disease or autoimmune disorders coming. I should have watched more TV. It’s always the orphan diseases that attack people on “House.”

And then, of course, there is some concern that this worrying is bad for me, all by itself. Stress is now linked to everything from heart disease to chubbiness to being sort of a bore at parties. It’s pretty easy to get into a loop this way: first, the phantom pain wakes you up at night; then, after pondering your mortality for a few hours, you start to become deeply concerned about the cumulative effects of losing so much sleep. Isn’t that how they torture prisoners?

Hypochondriacs are our own torturers, but we do have a purpose: I function for my friends like a sort of portable WebMD, one that doesn’t require an unlimited data package, and who is willing to sit in a bar until 3 a.m., listening to them fret about their own concerns, health-related or otherwise.

This is unusual, I’m told. We tend to think that people won’t want to listen to us whine, that we’re secretly not allowed to complain, especially about things that might just be in our heads. I find this more disappointing than I can possibly say. Asked to list my favorite things, I will always put complaining first, above even naps and sex.

This love of complaining extends beyond myself, possibly the only personal example of selflessness I can think of. When a friend apologetically says that he just needs to vent for a moment, I am the person who gravely covers his hand with my own and says, “I want nothing more on earth than to hear about how terrible your day was.” And I mean it. I would have made a tremendously well-regarded undertaker.

Another upside to being a hypochondriac is that you never need to be bored. When I tire of thinking of the disorders themselves, I think about how brave I’d be in the face of adversity. In my daydreams, the Ebola virus strikes a person on the street, randomly. I wave my arms like someone averting an air disaster, to alert the NYPD that we needed to cordon off the street with flares.

Later, I sit in the Slammer, which is what they call the isolation unit at the CDC, and gamely place my palm against that of my beloved’s on the other side of the glass. Everyone weeps, as the realization finally strikes that I was right all along, that the viruses and bacteria and sundry microbes really were waging war on us, that I wasn’t, after all, so crazy — merely self-aware.

I told them I was sick.


Swine Flu, Swine Flu, Bang-Bang-Bang!

My hero Anne Lamott once said: “It is not second nature for me to believe that everything is more or less OK.”

She could have been talking about me when she said that, and today was a particularly good example of my specific type of mental illness.

You see, two days ago, I came down with a cold. Or at least, I thought it was a cold. It never went to my nose, but it went everywhere else: my head hurt, I was sweating and chilled at the same time, my lungs filled up with greeny-browny crap, and let’s just say I spent more time on the bathroom, catching up on my reading, than I have for awhile. Oh, and also? I was exhausted. To the point where going to work or even to the doctors was an impossibility. It was a preview of getting old, if, in my old age, I contract AIDS-related dysentery.

Here’s the thing: The symptoms I’m describing? Yeah, that’s pretty much the swine flu. Never mind that no one in New York currently has it. Never mind that the CDC has a cute little map to that effect. No, in my mind, I am completely riddled with swine flu and will be headed to my reward any moment.

Sgt Lucky, who is not a hypochondriac and is probably feeling around on the floor for the silent alarm right this very minute suggested that I go to the doctor. He actually suggested it somewhat forcefully, after I bade him a solemn goodbye this morning and suggested that our neighbor Eric could find him a nice new girlfriend when I pass. (Eric is married and therefore knows lots of girls.)

So now I have a doctor’s appointment but I’m terrified to go. I’m sure there will be hateful swabbing and lancing and sticking and feeling. I just hate the doctor so much and in my heart of hearts believe that going there is what makes people sick.

Two things occur to me:

1) I am out of practice with being sick, possibly because I don’t stay out as late anymore and take vitamins, or possibly because we have a dishwasher and I am the anti-autoclave when I wash dishes by hand. Seriously, it’s amazing I’m not dead.

2) I’m a little nuts.

That last one is a shock to no one, but I think it’s sort of charming that it continues to surprise me.

Skeeters in my Bedroom

I am covered with bug bites.

This wouldn’t be so bad, but a couple months ago, we had a bedbug scare at Casa de Hub-Luck, and so every time I get a bite of any kind, I’m totally sure we’re infested.

Fortunately, I have many friends on the internets. Using Ms. Caryn Solly’s bedbugs FAQ, I was able to figure out that we are Bb-free. (Specifically, my bites have centers. I never thought I’d be so glad to see skeeter-bug scars on my pretty pretty legs.)

We do, however, have window screens made of swiss cheese.