Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Life With a Chronic Illness During COVID

This post isn't about a petticoat.

During a walk this afternoon, all bundled up against a sneaky breeze and November's weakening sunshine, I found fallen leaves to appreciate, and spotted mistletoe maybe 15 feet overhead, waxy white flowers blooming while it lives off the sap of the trees that support it. A neighbor waved and I wondered if she could tell that I was pretty tired out despite having walked rather less than a mile. Sure hoped not. 

Tired or not, it was a mentally relaxing half hour, a time away from what is honestly is, and has been for years, a daily offensive to push through all the duties of mother and wife and worker before the daily afternoon or evening physical crash. All while knowing that COVID is spreading fast, and knowing that if, Heaven help me, I get the disease, this body cannot fight it very well. 

I have a kidney transplant. Have written that before, so some of you have heard about it. Also high blood pressure and other issues, brought on by the disease for which a transplant is a treatment, not a cure, as well as the very medications that keep this person ticking. Like mistletoe berries, they are toxic, but paradoxically, in the right amounts keep the body from rejecting my mother's kidney, a gift beyond any that I tear up about in gratitude so many years later. Those same medications suppress the immune system, making me easier prey for a host of bugs, COVID among them.

When in health, I exercise to build a cache of strength. In health or not, I watch food carefully, am compliant about taking the meds, one of which, a half inch long capsule smells like skunk. Good thing have gotten used to that: the first while taking it was a battle against gagging. The healthy times are largely good, and gratefulness to Heaven and those around me is a daily wave that washes over, as my husband and I raise our twins, now half-grown, and try to be useful and loving to those around us. We live pretty unremarkable lives.

Take this life, and multiply it by the hundreds of millions. Change the circumstances, modest, or excruciatingly difficult, or easy. 

As a student in public health, I helped with a quality of life survey in a public hospital in a large city -- in the oncology wing. Where people waiting to be treated for their cancer sat on a concrete floor if there was no chair left, prisoners walked, cuffed hand and foot, to their appointments with their accompanying officer. Some windows opened, some didn't, so the air was usually a temperature you didn't want it to be. And the staff worked against such odds. The patients, too. We talked about how they made their way to their appointment: could they catch a ride, how far was the bus stop from their home, could anyone accompany them to help them with steps or be there if something happened? Some had children, some were raising grandchildren. Some were holding jobs despite their cancer; some were too sick. Most spoke with humor, or upbeat tone, some were still, expressionless, holding it together in an endless tunnel of this-is-what-it-is, this-is-all-it-is.

When I had sepsis once, a hellish gift from E. coli, and had such shooting pains in my legs that I was crying out in the emergency bay for was it 24 hours,,'s too hard to bring back; there was a woman nearby yelling imprecations at anyone who came close. She had overdosed on something. How we felt for her, through our own suffering. I got better, and that spring we hiked -- the boys were old enough to appreciate moss and the joy of wading a burbling stream, stick in hand, mud boots on. I hope that woman survived and recovered and is living clean and has happiness.

There was a girl at the transplant recovery house, a preteen, dragging an oxygen tank but cute as a button and talking with her friends on her cell phone. She'd had her second heart transplant, having been born with damaged organs after her family's apartment was sprayed heavily for pests, repeatedly. Her mother was pregnant. I imagine, with her grit, that she made it and maybe she has a family now. She will always take medications. She will always be at risk. Her fellow patient, and mine, a man in his 50s who had worked and raised a family while on peritoneal dialysis for a decade, and had a big garden he liked to talk about with us, as we recuperated in wicker rocking chairs on the porch. His transplant from his brother was a perfect match and he didn't have to take medications like we did. He had damage to his nerves, though, so walked with a permanent shuffle.

These millions and tens of millions of people have lives and stories and many of them have suffered, oh suffered unimaginably, but they are working and raising families and many probably have funds of empathy and understanding and love for others that bring relief and grace to those they meet who are in need themselves.

A few days ago, something had the chance of happening that might have brought COVID home. The environment would be conducive to spread. Hearing about the potential event -- details aren't pertinent -- I held my hand to the kitchen counter, felt the chest tighten, the pulse skyrocket, the ears attempt to ring, all in a nanosecond. Like the evening ages ago when a man stared at me on the sidewalk, then fell in behind as I neared the apartment building, matching his footfalls to mine, and was able to get in the door and into the hallway with me, staring, his face hard, before I made it into a full elevator and the door closed between us. Like the time the lady in the eggplant-colored van pulled into our lane on a highway when my stepmother, sister and I were out to look at wedding dresses, and the car went out of control and hit the median wall head-on. That kind of fear. Existential. I swallowed it down, gritted myself into normality, but not before squeaking so hastily that attending wouldn't be a good plan that I ruffled feathers. It's like that, living under this shadow, continous low-grade stress that blows up every so often. We're most of us humans very stressed anyway. we most of us carry extra burdens, for which God give us strength. The addition of an existing illness to the cocktail is an unwelcome splash of wormwood.

You all, that's what it is, this COVID thing. An existential threat to people who somehow have been dealt the hard hand -- already. Any age, infant to elder, people who already have faced trouble and pain, some physical, some the economic or social fallout of severe illness, many both. Sometimes over and bloody over. The cancer comes back, another brittle bone breaks, a heart attack, an organ fails. I was thirty-two when they told me, during final exams in graduate school, that I had a carcinoma, severe kidney disease, and pink eye, all at once. Who had to visit the dean to beg off exams for a while, and who could barely see to get down the hallway to his office. Felt pretty goofy doing it. That girl at the transplant recuperation house, she was still a kid, our fellow patient a father. We put our lives back together and went on. Most of us? You'd never know there had ever been anything amiss, or if you did, we had the grace to just accept (most of the time) and keep going. There are so many of us with such similar experiences, living right now.

This is going to be a long winter, and for those living way south, a long summer. I don't know what I am asking. Just that the person next door may have already had a bad bout with some awful disease. They're probably pretty good folks. Why not give them a chance? After all, we're all in boats that can tip at any time.

All the best of safety and health to you. Vaccines are coming.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

An 1895 Godet Petticoat With Boning and Stiffened Frills: Draft Correction and Pattern Cutting

Never trust your first draft, right? Edits are always necessary, and the truism held here, too. Only, for once it wasn't my fault, but a typo on the original 1895 Illustrierte Frauenzeitung draft! Despite the extra work, it's nice not to be saying, "Oh, noooooo".

(Oh! (In case you missed any posts in this petticoat series, you can find them on the 1890s: Costumes, Research, and Documentation page.)

Anyhow, I cut out all the pattern pieces, and laid them on the floor, folding in the seam allowances where needed so I could check the fit.


Something wrong with the side-back piece, which, in action, actually forms part of the back and gives enough fabric to allow the godet flutes or organ pleats to take shape. Or the back piece.

Uh-oh, something's not right...

Thinking I could have mis-measured, the next eon was spent in running a meter stick along all the seams, measuring them, and checking them against the numbers on the draft. I couldn't find my mistake.

The Pattern Draft Typo

Frustrated, and wanting to get the draft right so that we could see what a godet petticoat cut is really like, I went to bed. And thought about it, and thought about angles. That side-back piece was the one that confused me when drafting it, for the original draft of the piece had two different measures for the line that would be used to create the side-back seam angle. The top of the draft read 90, and the bottom, 99. What if one was wrong and it created a bad angle on the pattern piece?

Urr, thinking about pattern pieces is just what I should be doing instead of falling asleep. On the other hand, I could be thinking of far darker things. Our poor, hurting world... Perhaps a quiet geometry problem before bed is what the doctor ordered.

Now, if you have compared the cut pattern pieces with the draft, you may already have guessed which measure was the correct one and which was the typo.

The bottom measure -- the 99cm -- was the culprit. The FrauenZeitung typesetter may be having his little joke on me, all these years later, and you know what, it happened right at Halloween.  OOOoo...

By drawing out the draft's bottom measure to 99cm, the back seam on that piece strettttched out. When the pattern piece was cut out and its right side laid up next to the back piece, its right side was too long.

Good thing I caught the mistake, or we would have even more fabric in the back than we meant to!

The Fix

Pulling out the meter stick and ruler and pencil -- and eraser -- I redrew just the mistaken draft line, this time 9 cm less than before, and that changed the angle and made the right side seam shorter, as hoped. Problem solved. Phew.

That's better! Yes, I'll fudge the one little off bit

Oh, and the little gap between the side front and side back piece length? Fudging it. A cm or so is not worth it.

Rohrenfalten-Rock skirt pattern piece completed! Now I have a master pattern any time I want to make this sort of skirt.

The Petticoat Pattern Pieces

This next step isn't illustrated. 

Petticoats are usually a little shorter than outer skirts. I am going to need to cut 2 1/2" inches (6.35cm) off this skirt that's ~ 40 inches/100cm in front, or 2 inches shorter with 1/2" seam allowance that I will need to seam the bottom facing and a hem binding to. Hem binding on a petticoat that doesn't touch the ground? What an oddity, but, that's what's suggested. 

So I will copy the pattern pieces onto fresh paper (oh joy), and cut off the bottoms. Then we'll be ready to cut the fabric, at long last!

In other news...

...the boys and Grandmother carved a pumpkin for Halloween, and the boys made Pan de Muerto for Spanish class to celebrate Dia de Muertos, which has a bit of similarity to our church's All Souls Day but which has, to my mind, more joyful elements. Our pumpkin's looking forward to noshing on some of that semi-sweet, orange-and-lemon scented yeast bread, and so am I.

The twins' jack o' lantern: he lisps!

Pan de Muerto