01 December 2007

Witchy woman

Another post about the cat. Bear with me, now – I know wherewith I’m headed.

Remember in that last post I said my healthy living was improving the symptoms of my impending cronehood?

Heh. Well, I was lying.

Okay, not exactly lying. Call it positive thinking in print, published for the world to see. A harmless fib, meant to buck myself up.

In reality, I steam up my own glasses.

Achieving full steamage doesn’t require the presence of a male person or even an imaginary male person, such as Russell Crowe in Gladiator. Hell, Russ could dance through the kitchen in his little leather skirt, flexing his oiled muscles manfully, and I’d just stand there blinking.

See, all fogging my own glasses requires is that I mind my own business – say, innocently unloading the dishwasher -- and a general air temperature of 65 or below.

Here’s how it works: I’m putting away plates and saucepans, grumbling to myself because once again, it’s me doing this chore, even though I tried to ignore it for 36 hours after the dishwasher finished its cycle hoping that magic would happen and it would empty itself. But in the end, I have to concede that I want to eat off an actual clean plate with an actual clean fork more than Mr. Wren does, so I’m doing it.

But that’s another post. I’m putting away plates when suddenly, for no good reason, my ears get hot.

I haven’t visually observed this phenomenon, so I’m guessing that they also turn bright scarlet. The feeling of intense, humid heat, generated from the inside of my skull, spreads along my temples and then slowly across my cheeks, brow, nose, mouth and chin. My eyes heat up. My scalp prickles and starts sweating. The outrageous, weird heat continues flushing down my torso, but by now I’m gasping and fanning myself with my hands, the dishes forgotten as my glasses fog up. I rip them off. I yank a wad of paper towel off the holder and blot my skin. Sweat tickles down the back of my neck. My shirt clings to my suddenly swampy skin. Given ten minutes, I could heat the whole room all on my own. It’s like a nuclear incident and it all takes place above my waist. My brains should be boiling.

And then it’s over that fast – and I’m standing next to the dishwasher shivering because, you know, it’s November, it’s 58 degrees in the kitchen and I’m not in Biloxi in June after all.

For the most part, I’m spared these hot flashes (or “power surges”, as some snarky and wishful woman named them) during the daytime. They happen only three or four times between 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. The swamp fever hits, perversely, with the most frequency after I’ve gone to bed for the night.

The power surges mean I need to have a window wide open and a fan blowing directly on me all night long. To this end, I’ve taken to bedding down in the guest room to spare Mr. Wren the discomfort of trying to sleep in a room kept colder than a windy meat locker. He shivered faithfully through most of the last winter with me, but eventually it got too cold for him and he begged me to shut the window and turn off the fan. I was unmovable. I couldn’t do it. I’d have drowned in my own juices after cooking in them. Mr. Wren was understanding, but the cold wasn’t doing his osteoarthritis any good. So I finally took pity on him and banished myself.

You were wondering where the cat fit into this story, weren’t you. Well, let me assure you that Catboy PiB is delighted. The Psychodog, who long ago made it his serious job to guard the door to the Mawster’s Chambers every night, would never allow the damned cat to pass, and PiB was smart enough not to attempt to brave the Jaws of Doom. But since the Dog can’t guard two doors at the same time, PiB sneaks in with me each night.

And baby, it’s cold in my little room. The window is wide open. A fan sits in front of it, blowing fresh, late-Autumn-chilled air directly across the bed. I curl up beneath layers of coverings – a sheet, a blanket, a thin quilt and a thick, warm comforter that I brought home from Germany with me. I’m as cozy as a mouse in a matchbox. Once I’m settled, PiB likes to assume the meatloaf position on top of the covers, balanced on my hip or, if he’s feeling lazy, in the crook of my legs.

And thus do we fall asleep, both of us snoring gently. All I need is a little flannel kerchief and the picture of comfort and coziness would be complete.

But within two hours, tops, I’m suddenly and completely awake, clawing off the covers, twisting and snarling, a lump of sweating dynamite about to blow. At first, this sudden wild activity would send PiB leaping to safety, but he’s learned to cope. Now when I fight my way out from beneath all those covers, sputtering with fury and radiating nuclear fallout, he simply rides the waves, neatly stepping over rumpling blankets, ducking from beneath tossed comforters and walking my rolling body the way a lumberjack rolls a floating log with his feet while keeping his balance and remaining upright. It’s actually sort of amazing. He never leaves the bed.

I come within seconds of detonation and lay exposed and gasping in the wind of the fan, sucking the fresh air like draughts of icy water. Then my inner thermostat switches off and I’m flipping the appropriate heat-level of covers back over myself, damp, shivering and desperate to get back to that warm, cozy-mouse spot where I can sleep, deep and dreamlessly, until morning. After a few minutes of kneading, purring and walking all over me, PiB resumes his perch somewhere on my prone form and all is quiet until the next session.

This happens over and over again, all night long.

It’s been getting a lot colder overnight lately, dipping down into the 30s just before dawn. PiB has taken to perching himself on the few parts of me that aren’t covered in six inches of blanket, like my neck. Or my face. Or both.

I think he does this because those spots are where he can take advantage of my radiating 98.6 body temperature most efficiently. Smart cat. But he doesn’t realize that flopping his entire 12-pound weight on, say, my throat, might just make it hard for me to breathe. So a small battle of wills ensues. I wake up boiling over. Covers fly. PiB log-rolls. I huff and cool down after a while, get cold, and pull the blankets back up. Mumbling curses, I snuggle back down and try to find sleep again. PiB, in the meantime, starts kneading my collarbone, careful not to use his claws. He moves on to my throat. Then my jaw. He purrs sweet nothings into my ear. Then flumph, he’s meatloafed, his butt stuck into the space between my neck and my shoulder, his chin on my heart. Twelve pounds turns to twenty. As long as I can still breathe, we’re both good to go. If I can’t, I shove him off and he has to start over. He’s very persistent.

The cat-on-face maneuver is annoying but endearing. He could abandon me – after all, there’s a nice warm fire blazing in the stove in the living room all night, and he could certainly curl up on the sofa nearby and be quite comfortable. Instead, he stays with me, enduring the cold, my tossing and turning, and trying to get as close to me as he can. He shares his warmth with me when I need it, and just rolls with the punches when I don't. I’m charmed by his loyalty.

And so we wake up together each morning, PiB and me, a little bleary-eyed the both of us but more or less ready to take on the day, involuntary, instantaneous tropical moments notwithstanding.

For the record: The healthy regimen really did seem to be helping with the menopausal symptoms for a while. I wasn’t suffering hot flashes nearly as often in the daytime or at night. But it seems they’re cyclical, so there’s nothing much I can do but keep on keeping on and looking forward to the day when they end.

I’ve been thinking a lot about mindfulness lately. I'm truly glad I've been blessed with such a goofy, furry, patient little partner in this inexorable, shifting phase of life. Menopause is a process that, for most of my life, women didn't talk about much. That's changing some now, and I think it's a good thing, particularly if we can talk about it with both reverence and humor. The Change is staggering in its finality: it's the last mountain to climb and summit before descending into feminine old age. Male people experience nothing like it, however, and frankly, I don't think even tough ol' Russell Gladiator could take it.

And now I know why people once thought older women were witches and their cats “familiars.” I can be downright witchy these days -- it actually feels good after years of keeping my mouth shut on my irritation with people. PiB is my faithful little friend, guiding me calmly through the undergrowth and making me laugh when I'm at my lowest. There we are at 3:30 a.m., lost in the dark, stuck on the cusp between simmer and flash-freeze, chortling, cussing, and purring.


Dragon Laugh said...

Pib rocks. Cute photo. :)

EasyDiverChris said...

Oh, Wren

How I laughed at this post.

There was even an out loud chortle at the description of your eruptions. I do that myself and have for almost 8 years now. At 64, the night sweats haven't lessened.

I'm lucky that my husband is a sound sleeper because we share a double bed.

Some people say that this condition never goes away.


Anonymous said...

I don't know you. I found this blog by typing in "menopause hot scalp prickles". Yes, it's half-past-six in the morning in England, and I'm an old-bat writer of very nearly fifty. I've thrown off the covers (and the cat), sweating, prickling, glowing, desperately hoping I'm NORMAL. I've developed an internal dimmer switch that some imp keeps turning up and down, sometimes five times in an hour.

How reassuring to meet someone else going through the same thing. (And how horrible to think it might last another fourteen years.)

Good morning, Wren.