Sunday, March 27, 2011

Indulgence or Necessity? by Tamara Hogan

I’ve loved taking hot baths for as long as I remember, and they’ve long served multiple purposes in my life. As a lifelong Minnesotan, I have a well-honed appreciation for warmth. As a former competitive gymnast, my muscles slackened and relaxed as they slurped up the moist heat. And the bathtub’s always been my favorite place to read. As a young teenager, one of my favorite Sunday afternoon rituals was to take a bath with a book—usually a Harlequin Presents category romance. I’d lock the door, fill the bathtub with too-hot water, and carefully select my bubble bath from the row of colorful plastic bottles lining the toilet tank. I’d read until my skin was shriveled like a prune—or until one of my younger sisters picked the lock with a bobby pin.  

When I was a slightly older teenager, I got sick. Suddenly it hurt to eat, and my joints ached all the time, even though gymnastics season was over. I lost weight—a lot of weight. Family and friends kept me stocked with books during a long hospitalization, and I became a pro at wheeling my TPN infusion pump to the treatment room which was the location of the single bathtub on the ward. We finally figured out what was wrong. Crohn’s Disease.

With that diagnosis, I became a member of an invisible legion—people living with chronic illness. 

Fast-forward fifteen years. Between a long gymnastics career and the Crohn’s, I’d become so used to living with various aches and pains that it took awhile for me to notice that the full-body ache and nagging fatigue I was experiencing just wasn’t normal, even for me. While doctors and I tried to figure out what was going on, the pain increased to a point where my life simplified itself with ruthless efficiency: Work. Eat. Sleep. And very little else. Several years and a dozen doctors later, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition. Thankfully I had decent health insurance, and convenient access to a world-renowned pain management program. One of the questions they asked during my intake interview was, “Other than prescription pain medication, does anything help relieve your pain?” I blinked, realizing the answer was “yes.” Baths! Or as pain management professionals call it, "hydrotherapy." 

Pain is the body’s way of saying, “Slow down. Pay attention.” When the pain is chronic—when it never quite goes away—slowing down and paying attention becomes a way of life. To me, that's chronic illness's silver lining. I have to listen to my body, and most days, it's in the driver's seat. I've learned to say 'no' more often and feel no guilt about it. 

To some people, spending an hour a day in the bathtub with a book might seem to be the height of pampering, decadence and self-indulgence. Not to me. It's a happy coincidence that one of my favorite things to do just happens to be an essential component of my pain management toolkit.  No matter how crappy I'm feeling, and no matter how many other things fall off the day's "To Do" list, I know I can take a bath, and lose myself in another world. 

So, whatever the condition of your health, here’s Dr. Tammy’s prescription: Slow down. Take a bath. Read more books. ;-)  


Coincidentally, Taste Me's heroine, siren Scarlett Fontaine, adores baths too. There's a scene in the book where Scarlett sings a raunchy song in the tub, driving hero Lukas Sebastiani to distraction. While I couldn't reference the song lyrics in the book, the song she's singing is "I'll Have You All" from the soundtrack of the Broadway musical "Taboo." In the song, the character played by Boy George reveals some rather...intimate physical details about his lovers. ;-) 

21 comments:

  1. You poor thing, Tamara! I don't really care for baths because they get too cold too quickly. Except for when I had chicken pox as a kid--and then? I turned into a red spotted mermaid. :)

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  2. Bless your heart! That's a nasty chronic booger-roo to live with!
    I'm with you...I love HOT baths. The hotter the better and if the water gets cold I can always drain out a third of it and refill with HOT water. But my high blood pressure doesn't do well with too many of them so I'll send my hot water over to you so you'll never run out! Love the part about your character singing a raunchy song in Taste Me!!

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  3. I'm sorry to hear about your health struggles. I'm very impressed that you maintained a gymnastics career throughout it. I adore a hot soak in the tub. Dim lights. Candles. Music. Perfect. Great post. By the way...I loved Taste Me! It. Was. Awesome.

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  4. Hi Terri! I've become a pro at using my toes to pull the tub spigot, drain some of the cooling water, and refilling the tub with hot. I don't miss a page. ;-)

    Hi Carolyn - Thanks, m'dear, I'll take the hot water! I'm fortunate that I have low blood pressure, and somehow the bunions that plague multiple generations of women in my family have passed me by. I don't know what it says about ME that that song was already on my iPod, just waiting for me to put it to work!

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  5. Tamara, you have such a wonderful attitude while dealing with daily pain. You are amazing. ;) I can't wait until after RT when I can get to my TBR pile, Taste Me's on it!

    I love hot baths, too, but they didn't mix well with hot flashes.

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  6. Sara, I think the thing that helps me manage my health issues most effectively now is being pretty ruthless about work/life balance, and not over-committing. It's become a way of life, and it's one of the reasons The Underbelly Chronicles series is on an annual release schedule - that, and the day job, and that I'm still figuring out how I bloody write! I'm so glad you enjoyed TASTE ME. The video review was awesome. VERY cool idea.

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  7. Colleen, I feel fortunate that I found some effective ways to help manage my chronic pain condition, and that they work pretty well most of the time. Other times? The body's in the driver's seat. But another fortunate thing is that so many of the things I like to do - reading, writing, quilting - are pretty sedentary. I'm also a native introvert, so I honestly think that I'm better able to handle living with chronic pain than, say, an extrovert who doesn't come alive unless she's rock climbing or at a party. (shudder)

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  8. I'm a bubble bath lover too. Wow, Tamara. You certainly show strength of character for "playing through the pain." I'm glad you've discovered ways to manage your health issues and haven't let them dominate you.

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  9. You're living with two chronic illnesses? I just want to hug you. I haven't had a bath in ages. Before you grab the air freshener I DO take showers. Daily even. I have a big, ol' deep tub that takes half an hour to fill. But I just might have to take a bath today anyway because Dr. Tammy told me to. And I do have that new Kindle I'm breaking in. My luck, I'd drop it in the water. :-P

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  10. Mia, maybe my gymnastics background helped with the whole 'playing through the pain' thing? But as I've gotten older, I like to think I've gotten smarter about that, too. Some days I find it's more productive in the long run to sit on the sidelines and watch.

    Dang, Olivia, I'm forever dropping books in the tub. Collateral damage. ;-) Read a book in the tub this afternoon!

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  11. Tamara, I've been living with some arthritic chronic pain issues over the past couple years and I know it can be a real challenge. I agree oabout overcommitting - I'm learning to be less of a driven, type-A person but it's not easy to stop beating myself up (even more!) for not getting things done. Thanks for the wisdom of your post -I'm going to go take a bath now...

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  12. Joanne, I think we live and learn, hmm? When overextending ourselves can result in being out of commission for days, we learn the hard way not to over-commit. ;-) I've become a ruthless prioritizer. When you know you won't have enough oomph to do everything you WANT to do on a particular day, you narrow it down to the things you NEED to do pretty damn fast. Enjoy your bath, and congratulations again on your RITA nomination! I'll be there cheering for you in NYC later this summer.

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  13. Oh, my! How terrible that you have been in so much pain all these years. Sure hope you are better now. Obviously you are a very strong person to have overcome so much. My hat's off to you!
    Amelia

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  14. Tamara, it's wonderful that one of the things which you enjoy happens to help to manage pain. A wonderful woman I know also suffers both Crohn's disease and fibromyalgia.

    I love baths and reading in them is a luxury. As for collateral damage with dropped books, someone had mentioned something her husband had made for her. It was a wooden shelf that hooked securely and fit across the bath. I thought it was a neat idea. Don't know if something like that is on the market but imagine it is wonderful for books and a beverage.

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  15. I get by, Amelia - and yeah, I'll cop to the strength. I'm a firm believer in "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." One thing that's certain is that millions of people are dealing with worse situations than me at this very minute.

    Hi Lil! Autoimmune conditions DO tend to travel in packs, frankly adding insult to injury. ;-) I should ask Mark to make me one of those bath book tray thingies. One of the cats usually manages to tip my thermal coffee mug into the tub a couple of times a month...

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  16. Wow, I can't believe you have to live with such pain. Now I understand your weakness for hot baths. I love taking hot baths but I'm not able to do it that much. We have such a small tub that I just get annoyed.

    I can't wait to read this book. It looks so good. I can't wait to read the bathtub scene. Sounds yummy!

    iqb99@yahoo.com

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  17. Hi Danielle - most days it's not so bad. A mix of baths, pain meds, biofeedback and massage does a pretty good job of keeping things in check. Fibro tends to cycle, and I'm in a "good" period of the cycle right now. Keeping my fingers crossed. I'm giggling right now remembering that scene in TASTE ME, Lukas sitting at his desk trying to get some work done, but listening to Scarlett singing, "Fat, thin, old, young, tiny meat, well hung...."

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  18. I haven't taken a tub bath in so long I've forgotten what it feels like. Must do it again soon!

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  19. My mother has fibromyalgia so I do know quite a bit about this disease, however due to the fact that it was incredibly hard for her to climb into the bathtub- we had to have it removed and so now I can't take a bath - even if I wanted to. I was never one for baths though....I do like to take a too hot shower but the doctor has said that I shouldn't because of my blood pressure so I take a very warm one:)- but di do enjoy it and it does help to relax my muscles! Have never read in the bathroom though...afraid to get the books wet

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  20. Cheryl - reacquaint yourself! ;-)

    Maria - One other area where I consider myself lucky is that due to my gymnastics background, I'm very flexible (relatively speaking) so getting in the tub isn't currently a challenge. I've lost count of how many books I've dropped into the tub. Maybe this is one of the reasons I tend not to read hardcovers. It's less of a financial sting to drop a paperback. ;-)

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  21. I'm very sorry to hear about your condition, Tamara. I do admire your fortitude, attitude and courage.

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