The Other Shoe.

Whereas my preparation for this trip was incredibly thorough (I will write a post on that later) and the journey down to California went off without a hitch, once we got there, things went a little sideways.

I’d never been to LA and it was a learning curve. I’m very grateful that my therapist warned me about the vastness of the area and I had a few friends on which to rely for info (Patrick and SGV, I’m looking at you). For example, I was told to look at Palos Verdes, which is a bluff above the city, overlooking the ocean. I thought it must kind of be like a bigger Queen Anne in Seattle, a neighbourhood on a hill. However, Palos Verdes has 4 towns on this hill. There are multiple airports in LA and they are all legitimate, proper airports. I know that sounds silly, but, in Dublin, there’s Dublin airport, in Seattle there’s SeaTac and some landing strips. I like to say, in Seattle it takes about half an hour to get anywhere — give or take 10 minutes. A childhood friend of mine lives in LA, but she lives hours away from where I was staying, to see her would practically be a planned road-trip. They are obvious differences — it’s a huge city, after all — but I needed to make a mental shift that I never did in London or New York, for example.

Anyway, I was told that the heat and air quality in LA were awful — refineries sit very close to Dr. Chia’s office and stagnant air plagues the whole inland city. I was also warned of mold issues in beach areas. I was treating this as an 8-day retreat with my mother, whom I see rarely, a week to let my husband have some alone time and a test away from my home and dogs for the first time since I got sick. I was concerned about picking a rental in an area that made it difficult to sit outside. I imagined languishing in an air-conditioned house the entire time, with the garden being too hot and acrid and my being too sick to venture out to a different area.

(Aside: I had a few people suggest things I should do in LA ~ go to the beach, see the glass chapel ~ and it baffled me that they thought I’d be able to manage things after a grueling journey that I can’t manage when I’m at home resting. People can never fully grasp how limited we are, even people that see us, know us, live with us. They can never know the constant tally of energy expenditure versus energy conservation that goes on in our brains. The almost-subconscious weighing of necessity, desire and payback. The ever-present knowledge of what we’ve done that day and what we still need to do before bed that dictates our every word and movement.)

So, I found an AirBnB rental that was in Rancho Palos Verdes. The host was extremely nice, said it was quiet, there was no mold and they rarely had to turn on their A/C. It was about half an hour from the airport and 25 minutes to Dr. Chia. As we drove up the hill, the temperature dropped from the high 80s to the high 70s; it was perfect. The house was beautiful, with an expansive view of the ocean and it was sunny, but not too hot. I rested in the garden and watched the sunset, drinking up the view, so deeply submerged in gratitude, I thought it might overwhelm me. I never thought I’d be anywhere but Seattle again. Honestly, I thought I might not be anywhere but my house again. It was at once completely foreign and very familiar. I was taking in every scent and colour like an alien in our world, but it also felt completely normal, like the past two years were only two weeks and I was navigating just another part of the earth, like I have so many times before.

Then the other shoe dropped. Huge, billowing rolls of fog came in off the ocean and the humidity shot up and the temperature dropped. The damp soaked into my bones and gave me a chill that never really went away.

The fog rolling in. In person, this was huge ~ the photo can't do it justice.

The fog rolling in.
In person, this was huge ~ the photo can’t do it justice.

I went back into the bedroom to rest and it reeked. It was like walking into a wall of mildew. The en suite bathroom had no fan and the shower head couldn’t be turned to stop the water from spurting all over the floor. The closet was moldy, the duvet was musty and the blanket was crusty with something spilled on it. There was more, like stained pillows, toilets backing up, dirty dishes in the cupboard, moldy food in the fridge, a filthy oven, loud construction in the lot next door, but none of that bothered me like the smell of the back rooms and bathrooms. Even my husband, whose nose doesn’t work as far as I can tell, commented on how bad the bathroom was. The whole house felt damp and heavy. Between 7pm and 11am, the humidity never dropped below 78% and the temperature was in the low 60s. I didn’t have very many warm clothes with me, but I put them all on. Every day, I would sit on the couch, wearing three layers of clothes, and wait for the first beam of sunlight to break through the clouds and then go out to that spot and bake myself, like trying to dry out a water-logged book. The day we left, the humidity was 96% and it was completely overcast. That’s, like, raining indoors.

RPV bedroom on the left, my room at home on the right (humidity on the top, temperature in Fahrenheit on the bottom). I've never been so happy to be back in Seattle dryness in my life.

RPV bedroom on the left, my room at home on the right (humidity on the top, temperature in Fahrenheit on the bottom). I’ve never been so happy to be back in Seattle dryness in my life.

After much deliberation, we decided to leave early. I was fine for those few hours that the sun was up and I could be in the garden, but with the forecast calling for a chance of rain and even more clouds, I had to get out. My breathing felt heavy and I didn’t know what I was inhaling while sleeping in that room, so I didn’t have a “safe” place to lie and rest. So we changed our tickets for the evening flight the day after my Dr. Chia appointment. There were only two flights a day out of Long Beach Airport and the morning would be too difficult on my system. If I don’t rest in the mornings, eat properly, poop properly, hydrate and salt properly, I tend to have crashes of one sort or another: blood pressure, blood sugar, weakness etc.

Note to self: don’t choose the last flight of the night when you are sick, in a wheelchair and on a special diet.

Our flight was scheduled to depart at 7:25pm, which was already pushing it because I wouldn’t get home until around 11pm, well past my bedtime. We were told the flight was delayed at around 7:15pm — there was engine trouble and a mechanic was coming to take a look at it. Of course, I knew immediately it would be canceled and it was the last flight to Seattle that night. They could have moved quickly and gotten us to LAX for one of a number of nonstop flights to Seattle, but, instead, we waited over two hours to be told at 9:30pm that the mechanic had finally arrived. My husband actually had us transferred to a flight leaving out of LAX at 8:55pm, but we wouldn’t have been able to make it there in time. Actually, we probably wouldn’t even have been able to get my suitcase in time. We asked about getting a hotel and were told there were no open rooms in the city. No hotel rooms in the whole of LA. Hhmm. By then, I had finished all the food I had brought for the flight (not much: carrots, cucumbers and a bunch of Terra vegetable chips) and was curled up with my feet on a chair and my head on the wheelchair, feeling woozy and slurry. Through all of this, my heroic mother stood in line to talk to a gate agent with the throngs of other people and did everything she could to fix the situation.

I had already spent a lot of time on my phone looking for a hotel to no avail, but I didn’t trust my efforts, so I asked my husband to help from Seattle (he had only come to L.A. for two days to drive and help get us settled). He texted me three motels that he found through Expedia, but we didn’t know if they were places that Alaska Airlines would refund, plus my mother still was holding out hope that the engine would be fixed, so we held tight.

The little engine that couldn't.

The little engine that couldn’t.

When we finally got word that the flight was canceled, I wasn’t in the best shape. Two of the places my husband had found were now full and the last one was a $60 motel in Anaheim, charging $657 through Expedia. In desperation and delirium, thinking the airline would reimburse us, I booked it. And, when I called to tell them we were on our way, got thoroughly spooked by the very shady sounding person who answered the phone and seemed half drunk and not the type that should be in charge of a motel. Or even, of operating a phone. I had a meltdown. We were the last ones in the terminal, maybe in the whole airport. Everyone else had, presumably, gone back to their friends’ or family’s homes. My mother was busy begging the gate agent to help us since I was so ill and needed to get home. They offered to call the paramedics for me. People with M.E. love emergency rooms. I said, “If it’ll guarantee me a bed with no doctors bothering me, sure.” My mother said, “She’s not that kind of sick; it’s a chronic illness.”

They told us there were no seats on any flights the next day. I melted down a little further. The gate agent said we could fly out of LAX at 7am or John Wayne Airport at 12:30pm. We chose John Wayne because it was closer to the Anaheim dive that I was trying to get the nerve up to go to, but we couldn’t get the disabled bulkhead seating and we couldn’t get two seats together. Then my husband texted that there had been a mechanical glitch in Expedia’s system and my shady motel reservation didn’t exist. Oh, thank god! Because I had already realised Alaska would not be refunding any $657 for a dump in a different city. But… that left us with the airport floor to sleep on. Melting down…

My sister, A, who was on a camping trip in Eastern Washington with no cell phone service had asked if she could help. So had my friend, Z, who was probably asleep after working and caring for her baby all day. I didn’t think there was any hope. I had tried (ineptly) to look online, my husband had tried from Seattle, the gate agents had tried every contact they had… even the airplane crew was stranded at the airport.

At 10:41pm, my sister dropped what she was doing with her friends to help me, but I knew it was hopeless. I had a a new fun symptom develop around this time: my voice started coming haltingly, words coming out broken. It sounded like I was having a bad neurological problem, staccato speech, each syllable coughed out separately and slowly. It scared me. The incredibly kind and empathetic gate agent helped us get my suitcase and then wheeled it upstairs so my mother could push my chair. She showed us a couch where I could sleep and got us water. I got out my pillow, sheets, eye shades and ear plugs and texted my sister that I was done, signing off.

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That was 11:22pm. At 11:52pm, she texted to say she had found a room in a hotel — not a motel — for $164 — not $657 — across the street from John Wayne Airport — not in Anaheim or Palmdale, which is where the plane crew eventually found a room, 1.5 hours away. How could it be possible? I called the hotel: “Do you really have a room? For two of us? Even if it takes an hour to get there??” “Yes, Elizabeth, I talked to your sister, it’s all ready for you.” Disbelief.

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We packed up and — another angel restoring my faith in humanity — a woman also sleeping in the airport helped wheel our suitcases downstairs and outside the airport. Everything was deserted. The airport was effectively shut down. Tumbleweeds. And, then, as we were searching for a taxi number, one pulled up to drop someone off. Heaven sent. $75 later, we got to the hotel, they had a wheelchair for guests and a man helped us to our room. It was gorgeous. Two beds, a big balcony, swimming pools… By 1:30am, I was in bed. It was glorious. My sister moved mountains from the middle of nowhere and I will never be able to thank her enough.

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I didn’t sleep very much, of course, but I was able to recover more than I could have in the airport. My voice went back to normal, although I woke up nauseous, shaking like a leaf (not blood sugar) and with odd heart tremors. I mentioned how I felt on Facebook and Erik Johnson, of extreme mold avoidance fame, answered: “Take a shower. Wash your hair extremely well. Change into completely different clothes and put the ones you are wearing in a plastic bag.” It was like someone slapped me upside the head. Of course. I am in the habit of not showering in order to conserve energy, but showering is the only way to decontaminate — if not toxic mold spores, at least airplane germs and travel stank (from which I was definitely suffering). So I showered and changed into the only other clothes I had: a fun mix of compression stockings, shorts, tank tops and pajamas. I drank a salt and potassium water and was good to go. The shuttle to the new airport took about 3 minutes (again: how did my sister do it? Right across the street!) and the flight home was uneventful. My body even cooperated having only survived on plantain crackers, Rice Chex and vegetable crisps for 24 hours. And my husband greeted me at the airport with chicken and kale bone broth. Liquid life force.

Home is where the broth is.

Home is where the broth is.

Although I don’t think the journey to see Dr. Chia was worth it (as in, I wouldn’t advise someone else in my situation to go — but more on that in my Dr. Chia post to come) and the rental was not ideal and the journey back was filled with Travel Worst Case Scenarios, I don’t regret the trip at all. I didn’t feel terrible after either flight. I thought they might be carrying me from the airplane and that I might spend days in bed with my meningitis-type symptoms in full flare, but that wasn’t the case. I was actually just fine. The worst I’ve felt since before I left is the last three days and I don’t even know if it’s payback from the trip because it’s so delayed. It could be something in my home. It could just be M.E.

The whole expedition cost a small fortune and it was too much planning, packing and mental gymnastics for the few short days we were there, but I did it. We did it. My mother and husband were unimaginably brilliant and took every precaution to make it successful. And now we know how to do it, if we ever have to again. And I got to spend time with my Momma and create new memories. Priceless.

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I won’t suffer for this day.

I wake up and get straight out of bed without spending two hours “gathering my strength”. I lift my shower chair into position, lower the shower head and wash, condition and rinse my hair. This is something I manage to do about once a week on a day with no other obligations, but today I got a last minute appointment with my nutritionist. I don’t rest after my shower as I normally do- I towel off, pull on my compression stockings, put on jeans, boots and a sweater. I wash my face, brush my teeth and sit on the toilet to dry my hair, resting my elbows on my knees and hanging my head low. My husband usually helps me with this, but he is at work. I clip on my pedometer, strap on my heart rate monitor, drink a glass of salt water and make tea in a to-go cup. I move deliberately, like a sloth, conserving energy in every moment. I lock the back door, make sure I have my blood sugar tester and glucose tablets, scoop up my binder of test results and go out the front door, pulling it and locking it behind me, while juggling the folder, my bag and tea. I make a point not to say goodbye to my dogs, which I normally do. I am tallying every exertion — stiff door, weighty purse — since I don’t have my husband’s help and don’t want to needlessly lean, reach or speak.

I walk slowly to my car, get carefully in and raise the seat at a snail’s pace with the manual pump handle that always cranks up my pulse. And I drive to the clinic — the first time I have driven in about 6 months. I breathe rhythmically, hold the steering wheel lightly, casually turn the corners as if this is no big deal.

I remember myself as I used to be, hopping in and out of my car all the time, driving with confidence and speed all over the city. Multitasking, running errands, getting things done without a thought. Being housebound does strange things to your brain. The first thing I thought when I got into my car was, Will I be living in here one day? Could we trade it for something bigger? I turn off the radio so no extra energy goes to processing auditory signals than is absolutely necessary. The world going by is foreign and in stark relief. I notice everything; things that meant nothing now mean something. That fence is beautiful. Those people can afford a boat. I used to run with Bowie down that path. That person is strong enough to lift their kid. Their smiles are radiant.

I drive past the cemetery and first wonder if that’s where I’ll be buried and then see the cherry blossoms and want to pull over to drink them in a little longer. I drive past the hospital and make a mental note about how long it took to get there and feel confident that I could drive myself, if needed. I look at the people in the cars beside me and can’t believe that they are probably not thinking about how miraculous it is to have freedom and independence. Everything seems to represent our precarious position in this glorious life: nothing is important, but, also, nothing can be taken for granted.

I get to the clinic early so I can wait for the closest disabled parking spot to vacate. The last spot, six cars down, is open but I can’t fathom walking that far. I think about my rushed morning, my shower, the drive… I think about my appointment, the drive home, having to get undressed… six car lengths is a million miles. I wait for the first one to open up.

There are five stairs up to the clinic and I have to go through two sets of doors. Neither of them automatically open with a disabled button. They’re heavy doors. I hold the first one open for a man with a cane, he zooms by me quicker than I could ever move. Inside, I put all my things down on a chair before checking in at the reception desk — standing while holding that weight is not an option. My nutritionist’s office is in the furthest northwest corner of the building; we stroll slowly, she asks me if she can carry anything and I answer, “it would be more energy for me to raise my arm and hand you my purse or binder than to just keep them down at my side.”

We talk for over an hour. At one stage, I get very dizzy and my vision blurs out, I think I’ll have to abort our meeting, lie on her floor, call my husband … but adrenalin kicks in and I push through it. The shuffle back to the exit doesn’t feel as long — I’m not winded from stairs this time. As I walk by the front desk, the receptionist asks if I need to make another appointment and I wish she hadn’t noticed me so I don’t have to speak again. I stop and say, “I’ll call from home so I can look at my…” I can’t find the word for calendar. As I stand there, scouring my mind, an elderly woman with a 3-wheeled walking frame motors by me and flings open the door, thrusting out a hip to keep it open while she exits. I get distracted thinking about how I would give anything to trade this illness for another. Hobble me, but give me the ability to throw open a door. I want to barter my body: I’ll give you an arm if you’ll give me energy. I’ll give an arm, both legs and my hearing, in return I just want my body to be able to recharge. Take half my remaining years away, just give me ATP while I’m still here.

I give up trying to find the word for calendar, shrug, smile and leave. Back in my car, I leave the disabled spot and pull around the bend and park. I recline my seat all the way back and do a mini-meditation, tell myself that the world is not spinning, my throat is not sore, my ears aren’t ringing, my head doesn’t hurt, and I can do this. I breathe and talk to my cells, encouraging them to rebuild, refuel, recover. When I get home, I’ll have to find the energy to cook myself food before I get into bed. We have some frozen broth and frozen turkey, it’ll be easy. I’ll need to write down everything that my nutritionist said so I don’t forget; I want to share it with my low-histamine Facebook group. I envision exactly what I’ll do, watch myself standing in the kitchen with a low heart rate, eyes focused and clear head. You are strong, you won’t suffer for this day. The universe will carry you through and there won’t be retribution. You deserve a victory.

I sit up, push in the tough clutch and drive home.

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“If a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience. ” — Woodrow Wilson.

My So-Called Life

The following is a glimpse into some of the ways my life has changed since ME became my constant companion.

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Vitamins, supplements and electrolytes, oh my! The only supplement that passed my lips pre-ME was an Emergen-C every once in a while. Now this. I just started taking B vitamins again after a 3-month pill hiatus. Every once in a while, I just need to get “clean”.

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My drug stash. I hoard them, but don’t take them. Call it preparedness or call it paranoia, I don’t mind. After winding up in the emergency room a dozen times, I like the security of having meds on hand. What if there’s an earthquake and we need immediate painkillers? Nuff said.

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This is an example of how I test drugs. That dot in my palm is 1/8 of a Xanax…which had no effect but a hive on my throat…which means I probably won’t try it again.

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Cramps, spasms, aches, sprains. I never knew you could have muscle pain like this. After bartending three 12-hour shifts in a row or after being on my feet for 15 hours during a restaurant opening, I never came close to the un-ignorable myalgia that exists in this disease.

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Yes, all these clothes are clean and, yes, they have been in this pile for a month. Folding involves a lot of arm action and I’m not willing to give up, say, loving on my dogs because I used up my arm movement quota to get neat clothes.

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Thank god we (he) built the walk-in shower when we first moved into this house. It makes it easy to wash 110-pound dogs and it gives a flat surface for a chair for me to sit on. Yes, this is a crappy metal folding chair ~ I ordered the fancy shower stool and it was large, cumbersome and unstable. I toppled off it within two minutes and I’m only wee; I can’t imagine a bigger person having to use one of those things.

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I took this picture in August. These are my “sun slippers” ~ because, even when it is so hot out that I have to lie in the shade with minimal clothes on, the ice blocks at the end of my legs need to be covered and in the sun.

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Shocking, isn’t it? Welcome to peaceful sleep. Zeo headband, amber-lensed glasses for blocking the blue light in my phone, cpap nasal mask and tape over my mouth. Haha! No wonder I’m exhausted. 😉

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Bedroom in the siting room. My husband moved to the basement room last year because he kept waking me up at night, but, this summer our bedroom got too hot for my sensitive system, so we swapped and I went to the basement. But, every teensy squeak of the floor boards above would wake me (and I don’t go back to sleep), so my husband moved to the living room where I couldn’t hear him. Poor guy.

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BUT, the basement bedroom has no window shades and even the light from the moon wakes me, so, as a temporary measure, we (he) covered the windows with tin foil. My own sensory-deprivation chamber. Luckily, we don’t have many guests. 🙂

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My crazy numbers: High heart rate because I dared to carry some stuff upstairs and low blood sugar because I dared to eat breakfast (I have reactive hypoglycemia).

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What my hair used to look like a few years ago and what it looks like now ~ lank, brown, going grey, unwashed, and always in a ponytail. I miss feeling pretty!

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My crazy skin. This makes me look so gnarly! My only constant skin issue is acne (which has been worse than ever since I came off the birth control pill 11 months ago), but, every once in a while, my autoimmune urticaria, sensitivities and rashes rear their ugly heads.

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Blood pooling. *No filters were used in the making of these pictures (although they were taken at different times of day and in different seasons). Thanks to Jackie at LethargicSmiles for the blood pooling photo inspiration.

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Some of the products I’ve purchased in the last year to try to help my IBS, my ANS, my allergies and my insomnia. I really miss the days when I didn’t read the ingredients of mouthwash!

Thanks for taking the tour! And thanks to Patrick at Quixotic for giving me this idea.

Over to you: What has changed in your life since you became sick?

Title Credit

Happy Birthday To Me!

Today, I turn 40 years of age. We have a big day planned. We’re going to the beach with the dogs. We’re going to throw the ball and walk in the sand and let them chase birds. They haven’t been to the beach since last summer when E. was visiting and I still had some energy.

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I’m not going to go to bed afterward. Instead, I’m going to stop by the grocery store and buy all the fixin’s for a fry tomorrow morning: eggs, bacon, sausages, bread, tomato, proper cow’s milk for proper tea… I might even look for decent baked beans and black pudding. Then, this evening, I am going to take a shower, wash my hair and put on make up for the first time in 9 months (gasp!). I am going to put on a dress ~ it is beautiful and still fits me and I feel sexy ~ and some very high heels ~ I’m able to walk in them properly, without shuffling, and they don’t hurt my back. We’re going into town for dinner, meeting up with friends and family. It’s going to be a long 5-course indulgence and I’m going to ignore all my diet rules. I am going to rip apart fresh-baked bread, taking the time to inhale its aroma before slathering on creamy butter and savouring every bite. I am going to close my eyes every time I take a bite of pasta ~ I don’t care what kind it is ~ and be fully present in that moment, witnessing every chew with all my senses on full-alert. I am going to order the most decadent dessert, something with pastry and chocolate ~ eggs, sugar, flour, butter ~ and revel in every single mouthful: no guilt, no worry, no blood sugar issues, no inflammation issues, no intolerances or allergies or leaky gut or bowel dysbiosis or nausea. There better be a cheese plate involved at some stage and I might even have some wine. Dry red wine. A whole bottle. Maybe I’ll sneak outside to share a cigarette with someone. We’re all going to talk over each other and laugh hysterically and the noise won’t bother me. I won’t be confused and overloaded by too many conversations at once. I won’t think about pain or exhaustion or how I will sleep tonight or how I will feel tomorrow. Because I will feel fine. I will feel tired and happy and full and grateful. Oh, and tomorrow morning, while eating that lovely breakfast, I will realise I’ve won the $600 million lotto.

Well, a girl can dream, right?

No, unfortunately, today will be like every other day. It’ll be a little bit worse than the norm because my sleep vanished this week and I’m crippled with new muscle pain on top of the old stiff exhaustion. But, it’ll be a little bit better than the norm because my sister is coming over and my husband isn’t working. Three people and three dogs? It’ll be a carnival compared to my usual still, silent days.

Goodbye 30s, you actually were literally the best of times and the worst of times. I have three birthday wishes for this new decade: Continued good health for those I love, better health for me and relief from suffering for all people and animals on this earth. That’s not too much to ask, is it? 🙂

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May 18th, 1973