Friday, February 10, 2023

How To Survive a Colonoscopy in 21 Easy Steps


  1. Make appointment. 
  2. Cancel. 
  3. Make second appointment. 
  4. Cancel. 
  5. Remember two people you love who died of colorectal cancer. 
  6. Make third appointment and learn about new FDA-approved prep (no nasty liquid…just a tiny bottle of easy-to-swallow pills). 
  7. TWO WEEKS BEFORE PROCEDURE: resent everyone who does not have a scheduled colonoscopy and curse their offspring. 
  8. FOUR DAYS BEFORE PROCEDURE: eat small, low-fiber meals and lose sleep worrying you’ll die under anesthesia. 
  9. Consider canceling (do NOT cancel). 
  10. DAY BEFORE PROCEDURE: consume only clear liquids as directed BUT ALSO YOU CAN EAT NON-RED GUMMY BEARS (this is literally the best kept secret in medicine). 
  11. Research Hans Riegel, inventor of gummy bears, and ask God to bless his offspring.
  12. EVENING BEFORE PROCEDURE: swallow definitely-increasing-in-size pills and watch movie on Netflix. Send significant other to another floor…ideally in a neighboring state. 
  13. Try sleeping. 
  14. Never mind. 
  15. MORNING OF PROCEDURE: Google “percentage of healthy people who die under anesthesia” and make your significant other PROMISE to tell people you died donating a kidney. 
  16. Have someone drive you to the appointment (this is non-negotiable). 
  17. CHECK-IN: Resist the urge to punch the receptionist square in the jaw when she asks if you have a living will.  
  18. Fall asleep/wake up (honestly, that takes ONE SECOND). 
  19. Enjoy saltines-and-ginger ale buffet with fellow anesthesia survivors. 
  20. Walk out of the office the g-damn hero you are. 
  21. Repeat every 10 years or as needed. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Not the Worst Blog Post

When my youngest was maybe four years old he slumped down the stairs one morning, head hanging low on his chest, and announced in that weird nasally accent he had as a kid:  DIS IS DOT MY BEST DAY. 

It made us laugh.  It still makes us laugh.  We've teased him countless times over the last fifteen years about his persistent penchant for melodrama.  Whenever something goes less-than-perfectly for Brian, we remind him it is “dot his best day.”

Flash forward to December 2021.  Let's be's been a long time since many of us have had a “best day.”

We’re living in proverbially dark times.  It isn't just about a lethal and ever-evolving pandemic.  It’s racial division. It's political toxicity.  It's climate change and a mental health crisis and global injustice and has anyone stopped to consider Billy Joel may NOT live forever???

This is not our best day.

But consider this:
There’s a moment in King Lear, arguably the darkest and most depressing of all Shakespearean tragedies, when a distraught Edgar observes, "The worst is not / So long as we can say / This is the worst."

I never gave much thought to the line before I steeled myself to face the third year of a plague. Today, after a heart-wrenching conversation with a friend who lost her children's father to COVID, I remembered the "we" in Edgar's aside.

It is dark, no doubt.  It may grow darker still.  But this is not the worst, because we are still here.  

And that “we” is everything, isn’t it?  That “we” includes doctors and nurses and teachers and preachers and family and friends who keep showing up.  That "we" includes every single human being who keeps helping and hoping--and healing.

No, these are not our best days.  They are heavy and sad and relentless. It can be hard to believe it will get better.  It can be downright hard to breathe.

But we are here. And in the words of a much lesser poet than Shakespeare, in the words of the immortal and imperfect Dr. Seuss: "Christmas Day will always be, just as long as we have we."

Happy holidays.  Here's to brighter days ahead, for us all.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Black Lives Matter More

About a week ago, I got my first COVID shot.  Immediately afterward, I sat in a folding chair, as instructed, in the back aisle of a drugstore in Windsor, CT.  It’s been over 30 years since I lived in Windsor, and while I waited for the clipboard-wielding woman to give me the all-clear to leave, I couldn’t help but think how right it felt to have come “home” to be vaccinated. 

I had fifteen minutes to kill, so I spent the first minute texting my husband the requisite pic of my vaccination card.  While I waited for his response, I glanced up at the display in front of me.  Turns out I was in the health and beauty section.  And suddenly, my hometown didn’t feel quite so familiar anymore.  Before me were row after row of smiling Black models.  They sported du-rags, satin wraps, wide edge bonnets, turbans, and something called a pineapple cap.  I didn’t know what most of these hair accessories were, but I knew I’d never need any of them.  I looked to the right and found “silicone cover ups” and “no-show concealers” (for breasts, I realized after squinting at them for a few moments), offered here in “dark skin tones” only.  I swiveled to my left to check out the hairbrushes.  Unlike every drugstore I’ve frequented for the past 30 years, my go-to blowout brush wasn’t at eye-level.  In its place were picks, rake combs, and edge brushes.  The message was clear:  welcome as I was to receive a vaccine at the pharmacy, in this drugstore, black shoppers matter more. 

And that’s when it dawned on me, belated and gradually (as epiphanies tend to dawn on the not-very-bright): I was experiencing in a temporal and trivial and utterly harmless way what Black people have experienced—are experiencing—in pervasive and complex and often lethal ways every day in this country.  They are told, explicitly and implicitly, that here, white lives matter more.  And it’s not just about space on store shelves.  (Though I did imagine, in that moment, what it would be like to be a young Black girl staring at a row of white dolls in another aisle, in another store.  To know that if I wanted to pretend, I had to pretend with a baby that looked nothing like me, or with the single black doll I had to stoop to reach at the bottom of the display because in this store, white girls matter more.) 

Of course, one might argue it makes good sense for a store to market to its largest demographic.  But what if we’re not talking about a drugstore?  What if we're talking about our country?  And what if the market isn’t hair products or baby dolls?  What if it’s employment?  Housing?  Political representation?  What if it’s education? Health care?  Human dignity?

All of my life, I will shamefully admit, I’ve walked into stores expecting to find what I need.  Expecting that what I’m looking for will be at eye level.  Within easy reach.  Easy access.   

White lives do not matter more.  And of course, Black lives don’t, either.  But my white friends, that’s not what the yard signs say.  They state simply that “Black Lives Matter.”  So let's check the defensive posturing.  Let's stop responding that All Lives Matter.  It’s not about any group mattering more.  It’s about basic human dignity.  At eye level, within easy reach, and easy access.  No stooping required. 

Friday, December 11, 2020

Hark! The Herald Atheist Sings

“I really like Christmas.  It’s sentimental, I know, but I just really like it.”

-Tim Minchin, White Wine in the Sun

Atheists aren’t my traditional go-to when it comes to Christmas, and with good reason.  Consulting an atheist about Christmas is a little like consulting a nudist about fashion.  They've heard of it, and they may even have friends who are into it.  But it’s just not their thing.

I do make one exception.  Self-avowed atheist Tim Minchin (also an accomplished Australian comedian, actor, and musician) wrote and recorded one of my favorite Christmas songs of all time.  And that song really hits home this year.

Give it a listen now if you want to skip to the good stuff.

I’ll admit I’m not especially discerning when it comes to Christmas music.  I'll listen to everything from religious carols to secular standards.  The only songs I don’t much care for are those about having sex at Christmas, or more accurately, about not having sex on Christmas, which appears to be a problem of epidemic proportion among pop singers spanning generations. 

Note:  While I don't appreciate the “sexy Santa” genre, I’m inexplicably fond of “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” and I do mean the date-rape-y original.  It’s horrible and cringey and I fully appreciate why it offends so many…but I just really like it.

Which is borrowing a phrase directly from Minchin’s song, which brings me back to the point at hand.

This Christmas will cap a spectacularly miserable year for many of us.  I suppose there are some who will manage, despite all odds, to enjoy the holiday.  Hurrah for them!  But there will be a larger-than-usual number of us who feel depressed and anxious.  Those who are tired, or sick, or missing loved ones.  Those who’ve gained weight.  Those who’ve lost faith. 

This is our 2020 Christmas anthem.  And here are just a few reasons why:

It has modest expectations.

Look, 2020 has already turned “lowering the bar” into an art form.  If you’re concerned this holiday season won’t measure up to prior celebrations, Minchin’s lyrics will meet you right where you are.  He isn’t expecting “big presents” or “a visit from Jesus.”  I imagine some of my Christian friends might take offense to that idea:  What’s the point of celebrating Christmas if you aren’t waiting for Christ?  In response, I ask that you listen to any carol from the aforementioned Sexy Santa genre.  If we're doling out points for reverence, this one goes to the atheist. 

It’s full of humility.

It’s nice to be reminded that despite the talking heads on cable news and the blowhards on social media, there are still some human beings humble enough to admit they just don’t know.  The key note of Minchin’s lyrics is intellectual humility.  He offers a series of cynical observations about the commercialization of Christmas (most brilliant:  that Jesus has been “press-ganged into selling PlayStations and beer”), but then follows each one of them with a sheepish and apologetic, “but…I still really like it.”

It’s the sort of thing human beings used to do in the old days:  entertain two simultaneous and contradictory opinions, and wrestle in the frictional space between them.  It’s a good and productive place to be. We’d do well to return to it.

It embraces the wait. 

Minchin anticipates a cheerful reunion with his Australian family at Christmas.  He imagines them waiting for his cross-continental arrival, and passing their time drinking white wine in the sun.  It has to be the warmest, brightest, merriest Christmas image ever captured in words.  This year, even as a global pandemic rages, I’m comforted by the idea that across continents and across towns (maybe even across the veil that separates the living from the dead), loved ones are collectively and selflessly waiting it out.  The reunions will come, one day.  But until then, we’ll raise our glasses and wait.  

There’s a baby at the center of it all.

I won't ruin this moment for you.  I’ll say only that the “jet-lagged infant daughter” wrecks me every time, in part because she recalls, to my mind, another infant at the center of another Christmas story.  I’m not suggesting there’s an intentional (or unintentional) Christ-figure in Minchin’s lyrics; to do so would show blatant disrespect to his philosophy.  I know only that the image of adoring adults passing around a baby “like a puppy at a primary school” is about as pure and reverential and awe-inspiring as any church lawn nativity I've ever seen.  It lifts my spirit.

And that’s what I love most about my go-to atheist at Christmas, especially in this seemingly godforsaken year.  He admits he’s “hardly religious,” but his words somehow reignite my own shaky faith.  I suppose it has something to do with his unabashed confidence in the fundamental truth that “wherever we are and whatever we face,” there are people who love us and “make us feel safe in this world.”



That's what I want my family and friends to feel most this Christmas, of all Christmases.  Well, that and maybe a little grateful that they took a few minutes to listen to Tim Minchin, the atheist, who really likes it. 

And with good reason. 


Friday, July 31, 2020

To the Class of 2021

So you're a high school senior.  

Congratulations.  And my condolences.

For many of you, this was supposed to be the summer you were courted by college admissions officers who showed you state-of-the-art classrooms and impeccably staged dorm rooms.  You were supposed to get irrationally excited about That One School You Loved At First Sight and you were supposed to visit the bookstore and buy the sweatshirt, ripping the tags off even before you left the building so you could wear it on the ride home. 

You were supposed to go back to school at the end of this month, walking a little taller than your natural height, because you are a senior, dammit.  You know these halls like the back of your hand.  You were supposed to smile at the teachers and they were supposed to smile back, a secret exchange that suggests you know they’re just fallible human beings, but you promise not to let the freshmen know.  They haven’t earned the right yet. 

You were supposed to relax into your seat on that first day knowing it was your “last first” day, and you were supposed to soak in the intoxicating feeling of familiarity that breeds (not contempt but) nostalgic affection.  Everything would look a little smaller, somehow.  And you were supposed to enjoy every fleeting minute of it.

Instead, you’re facing a tough decision.  Your parents read an email from the superintendent aloud to you, citing the third iteration of a back-to-school plan that now includes a choice between two-day-a-week in-person learning or staying in your room for another month. 

Or three. 

Or nine.

They look at you blankly and ask, “What do you want to do?” because they know you aren’t a child anymore.  You’re 18 (or nearing 18) and the decision is primarily, if not exclusively, your own.

You struggle.  As parents, we're used to watching you struggle, but we can’t help the way we want to help.  The way we’re used to helping.  We can’t assure you we’ve been there before.  We can’t tell you what we did at your age.  These are uncharted waters, and you are a rudderless crew.

Last year's seniors had it tough, no doubt.  They missed out on their proms.  They missed out on graduation ceremonies and senior class trips and “skip day.”  But for the most part, they had their post-graduation plans buttoned up when the pandemic hit.  And when it did hit, they didn’t have a decision to make.  They had a decision made for them.

As a community, we bent over backward to make them feel special, in every way imaginable.  We chalked their driveways and organized parades and painted banners and left pick-me-up presents on their doorsteps.

(Psst...don't expect the same.)

It’s not that we don’t recognize your losses, or love you any less.  It's just that we adults (and American adults in particular) have notoriously short attention spans.  We are full of compassion in a moment of crisis, but we grow tired and cynical rather quickly.  (Consider, for example, how we lauded your teachers as heroes in March, and called them cowards by mid-July.)

But here’s the thing.

You aren’t adults yet.  You do not tire quickly, and you are not ruined by cynicism.  You are compassionate and resilient and creative.  I know this, because I know so many of you.  I’ve been your youth leader since you were in 8th grade.  I’ve been on mission trips with you.  I’ve stayed up overnight with you.  I’m raising one of you in my own home.  

Ok, so you may not have fully developed frontal lobes, and you occasionally make dumb decisions as a result.  But in many ways, you’re smarter than we are.  And that’s why you cannot make a wrong decision about the start of school, as long as the decision is yours to make. 

If you decide to return to school, it is not because you are reckless or selfish.  You’ve weighed the risks and you’ve considered the alternatives and you’ve made an unspeakably difficult choice that your parents and their parents never had to make.

If you decide to stay home, it is not because you are cowardly or lazy.  (See the reasons above.) 

And if you’re still hesitating, I suspect it’s in part because you're afraid of being judged.  Know this:  we adults are notoriously judgmental.  While you’re busy lifting each other up on Instagram with heart emojis and gushing compliments and unabashed expressions of genuine affection, we’re over here trashing each other over political memes on Facebook (look it's a thing). 

Judge you?  We cannot hold a candle to you.  

I’m effing tired of the word “unprecedented.”  But that’s where we are.  More to the point, in this moment, it’s where YOU are.  You are the class of 2021, beginning a senior year you never imagined, and do not deserve.

For whatever it’s worth, I am rooting for you.  But since those frontal lobes are not fully developed just yet, and because that’s the ONE thing I have over you, I’ll leave you with this: 

Wear your mask, wash your hands, and do your homework. 

You’ve got this, seniors.



Sunday, April 26, 2020

Throwing in the Towel

About five years into writing my doctoral dissertation I sat down to compose a difficult email to my advisor.

I had decided to give up.

I told him I appreciated his unending patience with me, through my relocation to Connecticut, my engagement and wedding planning, my struggle to conceive, and all the anxieties of a recently confirmed pregnancy.  I didn’t want to spend another minute analyzing the allegorical implications of Troubleall’s madness in Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair.  I was sick and tired.  I was throwing in the towel.  He wrote back almost immediately.

Dear Kara,

I wonder if you are aware of the origins of that phrase.  Boxers cannot throw in the towel.  That is a decision reserved for their trainers.

Keep writing.        



I did go on to finish my dissertation, and as clumsy and terrible as the final product was, I defended it before a panel of faculty who shook my hand at the end of three long hours and called me Dr. Russell for the first time.  My advisor, trainer's towel stubbornly secured around his shoulders, took Mark and me to his favorite diner and ordered himself an egg crème.  It was his victory as much as mine.

Fast forward two decades and I find myself in the throes of another long battle.  In this corner, a 50-year-old wife and mother of two who thrives on regular, close proximity to friends and family.  In the opposite corner, mother-effing COVID-19. 

I’m tired.  I don’t want to “do” social distancing anymore.  Like many of you, I’m ready to give up the fight.  But every day the damn bell rings to signal a new round.  And every day, I strap on a mask and wash my chapped hands and maintain a six-foot distance from all but three other human beings on the planet.  It doesn’t matter that I’m sick and tired of it all.  I can’t throw in the towel, because the choice is not mine to make.

Please, please don’t listen to the idiots who suggest otherwise.

See, I know about idiots, because I am one, too.  And not just when it comes to boxing metaphors. 

Like you, I’ve known people who have fought harder and more horrible battles than mine.  They’ve battled homelessness.  They’ve battled the grief of losing parents and children.  They’ve faced terminal cancer diagnoses.  They’ve gone off to war, or they’ve been left behind to carry on, alone.  I have always been stunningly inarticulate when it comes to offering encouragement to the battle-weary.  I eventually settled on an all-purpose condolence catch-phrase: “You are so strong.  I don’t know how you do it.”  It felt like the right thing to say.  (Ok, maybe not “right,” but at least not terribly wrong.)  I wanted people to know how much I admired them.  I meant it as a testament to their courage.

With unbelievable grace, they’d smile weakly and accept my attempt at sympathy.

Then one afternoon my best friend lost her sweet and humble husband to suicide.  In the grueling aftermath, I watched in awe as she kept putting one foot in front of the other.  I didn’t know how to express my admiration, so I fell back on the phrases I knew best. 

“You are so strong,” I told her.  “I don’t know how you are doing this.”

She didn’t smile.  She looked me square in the eye, as only a best friend can, and said “What choice do you think I have?”

Thank God she loved me enough to school me. 

I think this virus is teaching all of us a similar lesson.  We do not have a choice but to keep fighting.  It doesn’t matter how tired we are of the masks, or the isolation, or the monotony.  We can’t give up.  Not yet.  If we start pulling our punches now, we’re going to be blindsided. 

Just yesterday, my uncle sent me a music video.  He’s a Christian with a capital C, in the same way that I’m more a “christian” with at best a lowercase letter…maybe even a “k”.  (Which is to say, he’s quite a bit further along on his faith journey than yours truly.)

I wasn’t familiar with the song.  It was performed by an all-boy worship band, and my first impression was that they had beautiful voices and really excellent hair.  

Then I paid attention to the lyrics:

“I count on one thing / The same God that never fails / Will not fail me now / In the waiting / The same God who’s never late / Is working all things out.”
Well, that’s comforting, I thought.  It’s nice to imagine (even believe) there’s a God in heaven who won’t fail us, even now.  “It will all work out” may be unforgivably cliché, but wouldn’t it be something if it were also true?
And then came the chorus:
“I will lift you high in the lowest valley” the perfectly-coiffed boys sang.  And I thought to myself, YES.  THAT is the kind of God I can get behind.  We’re in a pretty low valley right now, and we could sure use a divine hand to lift us out of it.
Except that, as I mentioned earlier, I’m kind of idiot.  Not only when it comes to boxing metaphors and expressions of condolence, but also when it comes to Christian music lyrics.
Turns out, it’s not God speaking in the chorus of “Yes I Will.”  It’s just some dumb old human being.  Some guy who is in his lowest valley and is still praising God.
Well, that’s bullshit (was my first thought).  I need a God who will scoop me up and rescue me, and instead I’ve got one who expects to be praised even when I’m sick and tired?   

And that’s when I had a teeny, tiny epiphany…the only size epiphany idiots are capable of having.  I realized my prayers throughout this pandemic have sounded an awful lot like that email I sent twenty years ago to my dissertation advisor.   

In essence, I begged both of them to call an end to the fight.  And they both gave the same reply:

Keep fighting.

I know my dissertation advisor wasn’t a sadist.  I trust the reason he didn’t throw in the towel is because he knew I hadn’t yet given it my all.  I like to think the same is true of God.  I trust that when He throws in the towel for me, it will only be because I have no fight left.  If I trust in that, it becomes a little easier to keep swinging.

So whether you watch Fox or CNN, whether you believe in God or in Dr. Fauci, please don’t stop fighting.  Not yet.  When the bell rings for another round, come out swinging.  If it helps, try doing it in a bright satin robe with your alter ego emblazoned on the back.  You’re probably not leaving the house, anyway. 

Come on.  I had to. 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

For How Long?

I wonder if the same three words haunt you, too.  

Looks like you won’t be going back to school, kids.  (For how long?)

Guess I’ll be working from home beginning Monday.  (For how long?)

I found eggs!  This should last us a while.  (For how long?)

I’m doing ok.  I can handle this.  (For how long?)

Truth is, the individual days themselves haven’t seemed so bad.  I’m wholly aware of how fortunate I am to be able to say that.  I married a good guy, and I enjoy his company.  For the most part, I think he enjoys mine.  My kids are home and I like them an awful lot, too.  In between Zoom meetings and distance learning and conference calls, we’ve finished a puzzle together.  We take long daily walks. We smile and wave at strangers and they smile and wave back.  We’re watching The Great British Baking Show from start to finish.  We have plenty of food.  (Ok, it’s mostly a giant stack of tortillas, but we have food.)

And yet…

It’s the “for how long?” refrain that plants a pit in my stomach.  How long before I can walk into my parents’ house again without fear of making them sick?  How long before I can see my sister?  How long before I can pick up my phone and not feel dreadfully compelled to consult an exponentially increasing line graph?

I generally consider challenging things “endurable” so long as they have a set finish line. 

5k races.


Holding my breath during a mammogram x-ray. 

Elementary school concerts.

But when “how long?” is met with silence, or confusion, or a brutally honest “no one really knows,” a challenge can feel damn near impossible.  This morning I let a friend know I was struggling.

“The how long part is the worst,” I confessed.

“You know,” she replied, “that’s very biblical.”

(Pastors, amiright?  Even at 9 am on a Saturday they can’t shut it off.)

So I literally typed “how long Bible” into the search bar and up popped Psalm 13. Trust me, you don’t have to be religious, or even believe in God, for that matter, to get something out of this one:

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? Look on me and answer, LORD my God.  

I know as much about the Bible as most Catholic high school graduates, which isn't saying a whole helluva lot.  I know the word itself means “song,” and I know they’re often set to music or chanted in both Christian and Jewish services.  I sense this particular singer has endured something miserable for quite some time.  His patience is wearing thin.  He’s getting a bit antsy…even angry…and he wants an answer to his question, dammit. 

Just like many of us right now.

And guess what?  He doesn’t get one.  Here’s how the Psalm continues:  

But I trust in your unfailing love.

You see, this is why people get so pissed off about the Bible.  The answer to “How long?” is “But I trust."   

That’s, like, not even an answer. 

Unless that’s precisely the point.

Maybe fear and anxiety and suffering isn’t about how long.  Maybe it’s not about endurance.  Maybe it’s about trust.  And maybe it’s helpful to frame things that way for a minute.

Endurance demands a lot of us.  We have to be strong to endure.  We have to fortify our bunkers and tighten our muscles and keep our anxieties in check.  Trust is completely different.  Trust is about letting go. Trust isn't about self-reliance;  it's about interdependence and human connection.  And while I’ve had some hot mess moments over the last few weeks trying to endure the challenges of an unfolding pandemic, I’ve also had some incredible glimpses of what trusting in unfailing love looks like.

I bet you’ve seen it, too, so I won’t bother linking to viral clips of neighbors gathering six feet apart on the sidewalk singing “Happy Birthday” to a six-year old.  Or the husband holding up a “thank you for saving my wife’s life” sign to the glass window of an Emergency Room.

Instead I’ll narrow my experience down to just yesterday.  And not even all of yesterday.  This is some of the love I witnessed on one 40-minute walk with my husband:

I saw my friend Tammy, who was delivering a box of rice to our friend Joe.   

I saw a brother and sister spreading out hand-painted rocks on a beach towel on their front lawn.  “Come take one!” they said, stepping back to maintain a six-foot distance.  “They’re for free!”   

I saw my friend Pam, whose first question was, “Is your mom alright?”   

I saw Michelle and Riley, honking and yelling from their car that they can’t wait for Sunday night’s Zoom meeting. 

I saw stuffed animals propped in windows and hope-filled messages chalked on driveways.

And that's not an exhaustive list.  

How long will this last?  We don’t know.  No one does.  So I think it's perfectly okay to feel the pit in our stomachs. It's ok to feel our anxiety growing and our patience wearing thin.  And it's ok to keep demanding answers. 

But it’s also important to accept that the answers may not come…at least not anytime soon.  And in the meantime, even when answers fail us, we can trust that love does not. 

The "Hope Rock' we selected. And yes, I washed my hands.