Category Archives: Insanities and Inanities

The Heart of a Hero

Hospital
Image by José Goulão via Flickr

He lay sleeping, slightly listing to one side of the raised hospital bed, head resting on his chest. A once-broad shoulder jutted out of the neck of the thin gown. His hands rested on the covers, calm and free of tremor.

My eyes lingered on his hands. They still looked strong and smooth – the hands of someone twenty years younger. But mostly, they were pale. Almost white. Strange, for my Sicilian-skinned father, but a relief. It was a huge improvement over the yellow tinge he had been sporting in recent months.

My dad has been in and out of the hospital for the past two weeks. He’s had a total of four endoscopies during that time, first to find out why his liver counts were elevated and he was so jaundiced, then to correct the problem.

It turned out he had a precancerous polyp in his small bowel that was blocking his liver and pancreatic ducts. On the third endoscopy, the doctors put in a stent to hold the polyp away from the ducts. This temporary fix allowed the liver to drain while we decided what needed to be done.

Within hours of that procedure, he was sleeping and pale. But a good pale. The kind that meant his skin was no longer holding the toxins his liver couldn’t release. Despite my mortal horror of hospitals, I wended my way through the concrete-blocked and pipe-laden halls, up elevators and through scary sets of double doors to be with him.

The doctor came in to speak with us. She explained his condition and outlined the treatment: Whipple surgery. Whipple surgery, to be completely un-technical and probably slightly inaccurate, is a 5-6 hour ordeal where the surgeon takes out your guts, connects them to things they aren’t normally connected to, removes what needs to be removed, reconnects everything properly and replaces it.

Recovery time is up to two months and involves feeding and drainage tubes. This sounds horrible for a normal person in otherwise good health. For a diabetic Parkinsonian, this news was just left of a full-on catastrophe: heightened risk of infection, possible complications during the surgery and other delights and wonders.

The alternative? A potential for pancreatic cancer – one of the most aggressive forms of cancer. I went home and sobbed on my couch.

The next morning, the sun rose on a new ballgame. My mother called: The doctors think the polyp can be successfully removed endoscopically. The procedure takes about 90 minutes and the recovery time is just a couple of days.

Relief flooded through my family.

The procedure was scheduled for Monday – my birthday. So, yesterday, my dad had his fourth endoscopy. It went well and he came home this afternoon, tired but already on soft foods.

I know my mom and dad both felt bad that they had to be in the hospital on my birthday. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a birthday brat. I’ve always loved my birthday – it’s the one day of the year that I feel belongs to me; that is ripe with possibility; that is, well, special. So, yeah, I was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t be spending time with my family on my Day of Days.

But then I picture my dad, holding a cup of broth in his newly pale hands. He’s not had solid food for almost 48 hours and has only recently been started on liquids. The broth smells delicious and I’m so glad for him. He takes a slow, careful sip.

“That smells really good,” I say, to encourage him.

“Yeah, it really does,” my mom sounds surprised, hospital food having the reputation that it does.

My dad holds the cup out to me. “You want some, Sah?” he says, calling me by the shortened form of my name that maybe only three or four people in this world use. Then he offers it to my mom.

We refuse, of course, but the scene strikes to my heart and stays there. A man who hasn’t eaten in almost two days is still willing, quite literally, to give us the food right out of his bowl. I know he feels like he has so little to give these days, but it’s times like this that he gives more than I can quantify.

How does one measure inspiration? Kindness? Example?

When that scene flashes through my mind, as it has so often during the past week, it ceases to matter that he was in the hospital on my birthday. In fact, suddenly a successful surgery seems like the best birthday present ever.

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Rock Star

Rock Star

Me: I look like a rock star in these sunglasses. Don’t you think I look like a rock star?
T: In your Disney sunglasses? No.
Me: Well, maybe I look like Miley Cyrus. Did you ever think of that?
T: Miley Cyrus doesn’t look like a rock star either.
Me: Touché.

Reason #61 Why I Should Never Work in a Nursing Home

Otherwise entitled…

How I Turn a Simple Incident into a Moral Dilemma of Epic Proportions

It started out innocently enough. My husband and I met for a walk during lunch break. The weather was sub-par for June, but I always enjoy seeing T in the middle of my day. This time, however, it spiralled into something I hadn’t anticipated.

(Gutterheads.)

The following conversation was the turning point, and a perfect example of why you shouldn’t mess with Karma:

Me: Do you have three dollars?
T: No.
Me: Yes, you do.
T: Why do you want it?
Me: I don’t know. I was downtown so it just felt right to ask someone for money.

The city we work in is, sadly, home to many, many panhandlers. I know I should be sympathetic, but after years of getting solicited on the street, I’ve become hardened. I feel bad for these people. I really do. But I have absolutely no inclination to give them money and, quite frankly, it pisses me off when someone asks me. Some are nice and say, “Thank you,” or the ever-popular, “God bless,” – even when you walk by stone-faced and don’t answer their plea. But I’ve also had people yell at me or mutter uncomplimentary things.

(Then, too, I’ve had people try to push anti-war propaganda into my hands and, when I attempt to walk around them politely saying, “I’m all set,” I’ve had them yell after me, “The WAR’S not [all set]!”

But that’s another story – about a rage that almost consumed me in my effort to contain it – for another time.)

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. The three dollars. The real reason I wanted three dollars was because I hadn’t slept well the previous night and I wanted an iced coffee to get me through the afternoon. It was a last-minute decision, so I didn’t have any cash on me. I try not to carry cash around the city – for aforementioned reasons.

My lovely husband reached into his pocket and counted me out three dollars. We parted ways and I headed to Dunkin Donuts, because America runs on a franchise that can’t spell “doughnuts” (a word that doesn’t even make sense and is kind of gross, when you think about it).

Here’s what happened after that:

I go into D&D and get my iced coffee. On my way out of the store, there are in front of me: a large woman on a motorized scooter and a man with a cane. The woman holds the door open for the man with the cane. The man is taking tiny, wobbly steps. He catches his foot on the rubber mat in front of the door, loses his balance, spins on the cane and falls on his bottom, smacking his head against the wall – hard. As he struggles to get up, I ask, Are you all right?

He ignores me or doesn’t hear me or whatever. Possibly because someone in the store (another customer) keeps calling out, panicked, over and over and over: Someone fell! Ray, are you all right? Someone fell! Ray, are you all right? (Names have been changed to protect the innocent. And because I can’t remember the actual ones.) This person never comes over to help…just wails like a siren the entire time.

Round Handle CaneI put my jacket and coffee down and try again, a little louder: Can I help you? I hold out my hand. Again, he ignores me or can’t see me or whatever. I notice that his eyes are crossed. The malicious little devil on my shoulder wonders if it’s from hitting his head. The other part of me worries that maybe he is blind. But, he can’t be totally blind, can he? It is a normal-looking cane, the kind with a curved handle and a rubber foot (which, in the meantime, I pick up).

Ray manages to flip himself onto his knees, puts one hand on the wall and starts to push himself up. Yes, I’m alright! he finally says to the siren. So I know he can talk. Now the woman on the motorized scooter starts repeating soothingly, but over and over and over again: He’s all right, Edna, he’s all right. He’s all right, Edna, he’s all right. (Or whatever Edna’s name was.) Edna continues to wail, Someone fell! Ray, are you all right?

I hold out the man’s cane so he can use it to push himself up. All set? I ask. He says nothing. Once he finally stands back up, I try to hand him his cane. He still ignores me, or can’t see me or whatever. It’s not until I actually place the cane in his palm that he closes his hand around it. For one second I didn’t think he was going to take it at all and I wondered what I was going to do with it. Edna is still wailing.

I stand behind the man to make sure he makes it out the door okay. He takes a higher tottering step, clears the rug, and wobbles out the door. I grab my jacket and coffee and follow. I say, Thank you, to the scooter lady who is holding the door. She looks blankly at me. During this entire exchange neither Scooter Lady nor Man with the Cane ever address me or even acknowledge my presence.

I dart around them both and leave as fast as my thankfully sturdy legs can carry me. Suddenly I don’t want my iced coffee anymore. I run upstairs to work and wash my hands. Then, for good measure, I wipe down everything I’ve touched with hand sanitizer. I’m not sure what it is I think I’ll catch (the ability to feign deafness? crossed eyes?), but I’m not taking any chances.

That’s a hell of a way for someone whose father uses both a cane and a motorized scooter to act, isn’t it?

The thing is, I’m not sure I was trying to wash off germs so much as cleanse myself of the entire, awful incident. Mentally, I’ve been both sitting in a leather chair with a pad of paper, psychoanalyzing my anger over the incident, and lying on a leather couch scraping my brain for clues.

I was embarrassed. Was that the problem? Maybe. I don’t like to be embarrassed, but frankly, in this city, the entire incident would barely score a glance from passersby.

Did I do something wrong? Nope. I did everything exactly the way I should have. You don’t help someone without their permission. Even if that means you stand there like a jackwagon talking to yourself for 45 seconds.

Maybe that’s it. I mean, I’m way above average when it comes to being invisible. I make Sue Storm, or Violet from The Incredibles look like amateurs. But this brought things to a whole new level. Still, I don’t think my ego is that fragile that I’m terribly upset about being overlooked by two people who, quite honestly, probably weren’t all there to begin with.

No. The closest I can come to figuring out my distaste for the episode is that I’ve seen someone in that same situation many times: flat on his back in the grocery store, eyes wide; picking himself up off the pavement in a parking lot with blood trickling down his knee; hoisted up like a child by two huge guys, burly and virile.

And there is no way I want anyone to associate my beautiful, beautiful father with the kind of people I have met downtown. Yes, his Parkinson’s disease causes him to fall – often. But, my dad would say, “Thank you,” if someone helped him up. He’d look them in the eye and acknowledge that they wanted to assist him. Even if his hands were shaking, he’d shake their hand or wave or smile.

Still, I wonder if anyone has ever seen him the way I saw the man with the cane. I wish, with all of my heart, that the answer to that question was “no”, but I know that more likely it’s “probably”. And I know that no matter how many times I wash my hands, I can’t change that.

But, I also know, it doesn’t matter. I know who my father is and the people who truly know him know who he is, and that’s what’s important.

Using this logic, one could argue that it doesn’t matter what I think of The Man with the Cane or Scooter Lady. What I think doesn’t make them who they are. What I think didn’t make me act any differently than I would have if it had been a well-dressed, well-groomed man with straight eyes who had fallen. I would have done the same thing.

Does any of this justify my hardened feelings towards those who are, perhaps, less fortunate than myself? Not in the least. And that bothers me.

I was lamenting this fact to my poor husband last night, who had to listen to the whole sordid story and subsequent analysis. I should be a better person, I told him. After all, I said, continuing to bemoan my moral corruption while now quoting from M*A*S*H, Jesus ate with the lepers.

My husband looked up from his computer, then down at me lying on the floor where I was gripping my hair as I wrestled with my demons. They ain’t lepers, he said with infinite irony, and you ain’t Jesus.

Good point.

Forgot One

As I was driving to the vet today, in my usual marginally impatient manner (I may or may not have left ten minutes late), I received the unwelcome reminder of a nevertheless very important and classic “sign of spring” in Maine. So I’m adding it to yesterday’s list.

construction sign

I’m pretty sure there’s not a road within a 25-mile radius of our house that isn’t under some form of construction.

I guess I should be used to it. In the winter we leave extra time for weather. In the spring we leave it for construction, the summer for tourists and the fall for leaf peepers. You’d think I would have learned to account for these things by now. But, no. Like most New Englanders, I was born with the inherent entitled mindset that these are MY  roads and everyone (and everything) should just get the hell out of my ever-loving way.

Unfortunately for me (and the people on the other end of my appointments), it doesn’t generally work this way. Mother Nature is supremely disinterested in my pleas for clear roads, as are the state municipal departments, the tourists and the leaf peepers.

Especially the tourists.

And this, my friends, is why it pays to know the back roads.

Signs of Spring

At this time last year, I was impatiently waiting for my husband to come home from Afghanistan for his two weeks of leave. This year, I’m twiddling my thumbs and tapping my feet as I  wait expectantly for spring to come to Maine. Both waits have been excruciatingly slow and as maddening as driving behind a school bus when you’re late for work, but I won’t offer any opinion as to which was the worse of the two.

In both cases, the phrase “better late than never” applies. Thankfully, my husband got home then, and now we are starting to see some signs that spring is finally on its way.

The leaves are tentatively unfurling themselves, taking time to stretch like a cat after a nap.

spring leaves

The hostas are pushing up through the mulch beds.

hosta shoots

The flowering bushes are starting to bloom into vibrant firework-like displays of color.

flowering bushes

My chives are up!

Sarah's chives

Nothing says “spring” like a trip to Home Depot.

Home Depot trip

I can finally grow grass for the cats again.

cat grass

(Note: I have to do this outside. If I try to grow it inside, they eat it as soon as it starts to show green and there isn’t a place in this house that is safe from those two ninjas. Cat grass is very important to the health of my other houseplants. And my cats, when I find my peace lily ragged with teeth marks and leafy piles of puke on the floor.)

I think I can put the shovels away now.

snow shovels

(Probably.)

Owen can spend more time out in the yard.

Owen in the yard

And let’s face it. A little sun does us all good this time of year.

How about you? What signs of spring have you been seeing? What does spring mean to you?

Baby Booties

I wear a size nine shoe. This is not terribly small in the world of woman’s feet.

My husband also wears a size nine shoe (in men’s sizes, of course). This is not overly large in the realm of men’s feet.

All of which may explain T’s constant amusement when he folds our laundry and, in particular, our socks. He thinks I wear “little baby booties”.

baby bootie socks

I have to admit that even I don’t understand the physics behind this sock anomaly. I mean, there certainly isn’t this big of a difference between the size of our feet in real life. So what’s with the socks?

Isn’t it good that we have so many interesting things to ponder in life?

My Comfort Zone

I violated the boundaries of my Comfort Zone not once, but twice yesterday. I think I deserve a pat on the back for that, so I’ll wait while you congratulate me.

Thank you! Thank you very much.

Don’t you even want to know what you are congratulating me for? Of course you do.

First, you should know that my Comfort Zone is not very large. It’s approximately the size of our half of the duplex. And maybe part of the surrounding yard, depending on the situation. Going outside of the Zone is not hard in the sense that it happens often – out of necessity – but it is always difficult.

You should also know that the phone is not my friend. As a hopelessly shy child who grew into an even more hopelessly shy adult, talking on the phone to an acquaintance is less comfortable for me than wearing sandpaper in my shorts. I have no problems calling my credit card company or a place of service where I will never meet the person I’m speaking to. Likewise, I can phone talk to my mom or my friend-since-5th-grade, M, for ridiculous amounts of time (as long as I’m wearing my headset and can simultaneously get the dishes or the laundry done). But the thought of calling someone I know only slightly – and worse, someone who I want to like me – is terrifying.

I know. I’m not right.

But then, I never said I was.

This week, however, my need to talk to someone who “gets it” far outweighed my fears. This week was not a nice week. It started on Monday morning with the blog post that shocked the MilSpouse community and left us reeling with sadness and unanswered questions. I know many of you are still thinking hard about Jessica and worrying about her. I know I am.

Later that same day I got some news on the fertility forefront that was less than welcome. T and I haven’t given up hope yet, but I suspect we have a road ahead that neither one of us was anticipating. And that, quite frankly, sucks. I’ve decided that in the interest of privacy I’ll be taking our fertility foibles offline. And if you know me in person, please don’t ask. Thank you in advance.

As the week wore on, concerned emails flew back and forth between MilSpouses about Jessica. Slightly hopeful answers have begun to emerge, but I think a lot of us felt a need to cling a little tighter to the people we know. So, by Thursday, I was sitting on my porch step with a slip of paper in one hand and the phone in the other.

Okay, I thought. Just do it!

And I’m so glad I did. Before I knew it, I was chatting away with Michelle from The Annoyed Army Wife and feeling wonderfully at ease. She is, quite possibly, one of the sweetest people I’ve ever spoken with. I’ve jealously watched as different MilSpouses have hooked up with fellow bloggers then posted pictures of their time together, knowing that up here in Maine I’ll probably never get the opportunity to connect with any of you in that way. So it was pretty exciting to at least have a phone date, and getting to know Michelle a little better turned out to be a lot of fun.

That was the first leap. The second was last night when I took an Adult Ed photography class. I adore both learning and teaching, so I’m pretty comfortable in almost any classroom setting, but I always have this weird anxiety before doing anything new.

I have developed equally weird routines to get me through it: I have to make sure I wear sleeveless shirts because I’m sure to sweat my pits into a frenzy. I have to fly around the house for at least a half an hour before leaving, focusing on getting things done so that I don’t focus on my anxiety and how much I feel like throwing up. In the hour before I left I somehow managed to: cook and eat a full dinner, empty the trash, put the dog out then in, empty the dishwasher, start a load of laundry, give the cat her liver pill, scoop the cat box, sweep the floor and get myself out the door.

Um, yeah. The words “whirling dervish” come to mind. Imagine what it would be like if I were hyperthyroid right now.

Then on the way to school, I started the next part of my routine: Is my hair sticking out? Is my fly up? Do I have anything in my teeth? (Unlikely since I brushed before leaving, but still must check.) Do my shoes match? Do I have my cell phone, gum, tissues, lip stuff and/or keys? (Duh, I’m driving). Is my fly up? (Must check at least twice.)

It’s exhausting being me. And now you know why I never leave the house.

The good news is the class – once I got there – was phenomenal. I learned so much about my camera that I might actually take it off auto. I know what ISO, shutter speed and aperture are now. I know how to get more light in a picture without using a flash. I discovered that my camera has a macro function and I figured out how to turn off the Assist Lamp, which is that little light that makes my pets close their eyes every time I take a picture of them.

The only irritating part was that there were two bozos in the back who sucked up class time by not knowing the location of a single thing on their camera. You know the type. They came in late. They asked stupid questions. (Yes. Yes, there IS such a thing as a stupid question.) Every time the instructor asked, “Did everyone find that on their camera?” their answer would invariably be, “No,” and he’d have to go help them. How do you not know where your flash button is? And if you can’t find it, could you please at least look? The rest of us paid too and would like to learn something. This is not a private session.

Remember that 4-Lenses personality test? That’s the Green. Sorry about that. But I’ve got no patience for stupid.

So, anyway, yeah. Two Zone breaches in one day. Not too shabby. Now if I can just get through the Adult Ed writing seminar I signed up for on Saturday.

Is my fly up?