On the Road Again

This has been a banner year for us with high school graduations: four trips down the aisle. Two nieces, one nephew, and one family friend. Not that we got to see them all, no, only one viewed in person by us, and that was the nephew’s, which was fitting, since we were present at his birth, and we plan to be present at as many of his life-changing events as he will let us.

There was the pomp and circumstance, the band tunes, the marching in, the speechifying, the mortar flinging, all the requisite hoopla you can imagine.

Uh oh.

<<CAUTION! ABSOLUTELY UNNECESSARY ETYMOLOGY LESSON AHEAD!>>Where does this word “hoopla come from anyway? Sounds vaguely Hawaiian in origin, but actually it is corrupted French, the real live etymologists think. “Houp-là!” you would say toyour child, “upsy-daisy,” or, “up you go.” Just a saying that accompanies a quick movement. The Brits turned it into a fairground game where you have to toss a hoop over something to win a prize; we Americans turned it into much ado about nothing, but in this case it was much ado about something. <<END ABSOLUTELY UNNECESSARY ETYMOLOGY LESSON>>

Although we loved every minute of that one graduation ceremony, especially the one minute where the principal of that high school actually mentioned our nephew by his actual name (WOW!!!) because of the great job he has done with GRuB in turning it into a national model, the two hours on exquisitely uncomfortably unpadded chairs completely ruined my partner’s back, so we had to skip the ceremony the following night in the same gymnasium (on the same chairs) for the family friend and the one the following weekend for one niece an hour away by car. The other niece lives on the other side of the country.

All right, all right, I hear you. Sorry, folks.

<caution. absolutely unnecessary etymology lesson ahead.>And I do mean unnecessary. The word “exquisite” is supposed to be pronounced with the accent on the first syllable. Really. Go back and watch some old M*A*S*H episodes if you don’t believe me, and listen to Charles. <<END ABSOLUTELY UNNECESSARY ETYMOLOGY LESSON>>

All etymology lessons out of the way, brace yourself for some timely newsworthy hoopla:

I have finished physical therapy due to rotator cuff surgery. Ta-da!

This means, in theory, that I have two functioning shoulders, free and clear to do things such as, oh, I don’t know, putting clothes in the dryer, typing, driving, stuff like that.

So I very gingerly went driving, just down to Target and back. No animals were harmed in the making of this blog entry. Except CF did turn her knuckles an ungodly shade of white when I made a rather sloppy left turn onto our road.

Therefore, she was not willing to let me drive one hour south to the niece’s graduation party. Party pooper. I drove two entire miles to Target and back, and only one tiny slip-up, and she won’t let me drive 120 miles at 65 mph! Sheesh. I mean, it’s not like we’d be driving my old wreck of a car. No, we’d be taking her nice, new car with all the groovy features on it, like a radio that works and everything.

I did notice something odd when I was driving those two miles, though. I had no idea where I was. It’s not a terribly complicated drive to Target. Down our street, turn right, go a little way, turn left, go a little way, turn right, and there you are. In its parking lot. Where you have to park.

(Did you see that cartoon in Sunday’s paper where the guy brings his own can of spray paint and just paints his own parking spot? Brilliant.)

And then you reverse your steps and go home.

But after being a passenger for over six months, my brain has scrambled the bits that held Olywa maps in place. They are gone. The maps from the town where I grew up are firmly in place. I can still count down the traffic lights on Bloomfield Ave. from the edge of town until you get to Central Ave. and you turn right to get to our house: Forest, Smull, Park. (I used to do this in the dark on the way back from my grandmother’s house.) Unless they’ve added one at Personnette St….

And the cow trail maps of Maine are emblazoned on my mind forever, especially the places where, for instance, the road to Durham from Freeport, called the Durham Road, crosses from Freeport into Durham, and becomes the Freeport Road, because there it’s the road from Durham to Freeport.

The Olympia map, however, was not to be found. I was a poor little lamb who has lost her way. Baa. Baa. Baa. Where’s my whiffenpoof? Oh, no, not another one! <<CAUTION! ABSOLUTELY UNNECESSARY ETYMOLOGY LESSON AHEAD!>> A whiffenpoof is not only the name of an absurd singing group of bawdy men from Yale University. It is also the name of an old-fashioned tracking gee-gaw, a big old log with a bunch of nails sticking out a few inches and a way to drag it behind you, so it rotates and leaves a trail of little holes from the nail heads. You leave the whiffenpoof in the woods and see if folks can follow the trail to find it. <<END ABSOLUTELY UNNECESSARY ETYMOLOGY LESSON>>

Once I made it home from Target, I rustled up my Garmin nüvi and charged it, ready for action. I can’t just plug it into my car battery, because my car is a 1997 Toyota RAV, and it has seen many better days. I remember the day that NF, still in diapers, experimented with a penny and shorted out the lighter, thus making it impossible to plug in any electronic device one might use via its handy port.

I was quite pleased with my Garmin nüvi solution to my map-free brain, right down to the crisp British accent of the unflappable woman telling me where to go. I mean, instructing my driving. I took my Garmin into the living room to show CF and she graciously listened to my enthusiastic explanation.

“You know,” she said, “you can get maps right on your phone. And they update as you travel. Just like that thing.”

“Oh,” I said, tossing the Garmin onto the stack beside me. Not much pomp. Not much circumstance.


I Haz Cheez Stix!

It was official. I could not get to sleep. 3:00 A.M. My socks were hopelessly twisted around my ankles, and my feet were cold. Where was that cat who was supposed to keep them warm?

CAUTION! TRUE CONFESSION AHEAD! No, not an etymology lesson. In fact, this caution comes a bit late, since the true confession has already happened: I wear socks to bed. And a tee shirt.  (14-year-old child. Carefree manners.) END TRUE CONFESSION.

I decided the solution was two cheese sticks, fuel for my toes.I stumbled quietly down the hall, checking on aforementioned son, making sure his noise machine (iPod) was still silenced for the night (he likes to turn it on after he knows I’ve gone to bed), taking care not to wake him, the dog, or the assorted cats draped around him, including the traitorous one supposed to be warming my feet.

The cheese sticks were in a monstrously unopened bag fresh from the store, requiring me to manipulate wrong-handed scissors in my half-awake state. These scissors were hard enough to use when I am fully awake. Trying to use them against uncooperative plastic was like trying to force a pill down a cat’s throat.

CAUTION! LEFT-HANDED SCREED AHEAD! The majority of right-handed people do not understand the difficulty that left-handed people have with simple implements such as

scissors, measuring cups, computer mice, car controls, etc. We eventually adapt, but right-handed scissors never become easy. It’s not just a matter of the shape of the handle; it’s also the way the two blades come together SCRRKKKKKKKKKKKkkKKKKKKK

That was my screed being wrenched to a stop by the blog master. Sorry.

So I ate my two cheese sticks and started back to bed.

CAUTION! TRUE CONFESSION AHEAD! Another late confession. We eat those string cheese sticks. They’re good, easy junk food. We got into the habit when we were going to 107 baseball games every week, I mean every month, I mean every season. END TRUE CONFESSION.

I wondered if those cheese sticks would make me thirsty. I decided no.

Hark! What was this ungodly squawk? Could it be the sound of “music” gurgling from my son’s bedside? I tiptoed through the dark of his room, guided only by the green light of his iPod speaker and his fake sleep breathing to turn it off, not noticing the one cat who chose to sleep on the floor, until it let out a shocked shriek, which started a general cat rodeo, with dog as guest star, around me.

Back in the dark hallway, I heard the sound, the offbeat sound a cat makes when it is about to hurl an object of indescribable origin from its bowels into the atmosphere: eh-YUH! eh-YUH! eh-YUH!

My options here were few. I could chase down the cat in the dark and thrust a piece of newspaper under its recoiling chin, hoping to catch whatever repulsive object it was about to offer the world.

Or I could note the cat’s location for cleanup at a later, more light-filled time, if the cat was in an out-of-the-way place.

Or I could just ignore the whole—no, I couldn’t.

eh-YUH! eh-YUH! eh-YUH! I thrust the newspaper under the cat’s chin in time for the final gruesome ack! ack! and….nothing. The cat glared at me and stalked away.

The dog stood at the door hoping I would let her go outside, but I knew this was just a ruse so I would give her a treat. I ignored her and headed back down the hall. My son had cleverly not turned his music on yet.

Perhaps I was having trouble sleeping because I needed more clothing. I decided to add a pair of pajama pants to my nighttime couture. CAUTION! TRUE CONFESSION AHEAD! And this caution comes ahead of the confession. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wear pajama pants without putting on underwear first. END TRUE CONFESSION.

This is where things got interesting. This is where everything about multiple sclerosis, everything about the stroke, everything about rotator cuff surgery and all that physical therapy came together. Right here. In this dark bedroom at 3:15 A.M. with CF asleep five feet away. Right here with this pair of underpants and pajama pants.


For some reason, I thought of Cristina Yang, one of the doctors on Grey’s Anatomy, and how she has to visualize the surgery she is about to do. So I visualized what I was about to do. Cristina Yang is an actress named Sandra Oh cutting into plastic. I was wobbling on one leg and then the other, groping my way into undies and then pajamas without falling over.

For the uninitiated among you, imagine standing on a large beach ball while doing this. While on a skateboard. That’s not what I visualized. I visualized solid ground. You should add the beach ball. I don’t need to, but you should. Do not add a scalpel.

Now I was thirsty. Back to the kitchen for a bottle of seltzer. Back to the bedroom to sit on the edge of the bed in the darkness to open it, why I do not know, where I cannot see the bubbles over-bubble onto my socked-in feet.

The water felt better in my mouth than on my feet.

CAUTION! TRUE CONFESSION AHEAD! I went to sleep with damp socks and feet. END TRUE CONFESSION.

A Shoulder To Cry On

Loyal readers are no doubt sputtering at that headline, wondering how on earth I am going to segue from “A Shoulder To Cry On” into a discussion on pretzel-thoughts, which I promised last time I would discuss this time.

Well, I’m not going to. You’re going to have to wait a week for that scintillating discussion, maybe even longer.

Depends on how good the anesthesia is.

See, on Tuesday, Nov. 20, the bone doc, Doc Z., is going to pin my tendon back on to my rotator cuff so I can use my right arm again without rattling the roof rafters with my screaming. And that little bit of surgery is all that’s on my mind right now.

“Pin” is not the correct medical term, of course. I believe he will actually sew it back on, a technique I never quite mastered, despite two terms of home economics classes in seventh and eighth grades at Grover Cleveland Junior High School, the same school where I was taught to dance the hula and square dance.

Along with Vicky L. and Kathy R., I was quickly identified as a H.E.H. (home economics hopeless) and forced to sit in the kitchenette closest to the teacher, where we scorched the toast, burnt the broiled grapefruit, spilled the tea, and generally lived up to our potential.

When it came time to switch over to the sewing half of the course, we were faced with the task of making a wrap-around skirt. I chose a trendy denim fabric, and stared at it helplessly for several class sessions, measuring out my pattern pieces again and again. Even Vicky L. was ahead of me. I never did sew the buttonhole; I just punched it through with the scissors and let it go at that.

It was worse in eighth grade, where the normally shy and sedate Sandy B. led the rebellion to make an A-line skirt and weskit (very trendy) rather than the normal jumper (very fifties), leaving all us H.E.H. in a panic. I didn’t even try. I gave my fabric to my first-cousin-once-removed, who gave it back all sewn up. I didn’t care. I managed to hold my head up high when forced to trot across the stage in the mandatory home economics fashion show. I wore the hated stockings but refused the makeup. I have my limits.

So I can’t blame M.S. or the stroke for my inability to sew, sad to say. But I can blame both for the shoulder surgery. Without M.S., I never would have been taking BrainScar, the drug we all (tacitly or not) blame for the stroke I had in August 2011. And it was either M.S. or the stroke that caused me to stumble and fall up the stairs that night in September that tore apart my rotator cuff.

Rotator cuffs can fall apart all on their own, because they are used for so much. They lie deep inside your shoulders, underneath all the muscles and bones and tendons. They’re kind of like Grand Central Station for your arms. Move your thumb? Gotta go through the rotator cuff.

One of the last things I did this week was have a tooth fixed. I found out that my dental hygienist is recovering from rotator cuff surgery, caused by years and years of cleaning people’s teeth. Poor Laurie!

It takes months to recover, lots of physical therapy, with and without physical therapists. Fortunately I already have found some good P.T.’s. I was working with them on this shoulder until we decided that the pain wasn’t getting any better and an MRI was needed to see if the rotator cuff was in fact torn.

Answer: Yep.

So a week after the surgery (just long enough for all the anesthesia to have worn off), I’ll return to the physical therapists to start the recovery process.

I’ve been trying to picture what sort of bandaging they’ll wrap me in after this surgery. The doctor was a bit vague about what sort of incision he was going to do: arthroscopic, he said, but then opening it up a bit, waving his fingers around in the air as if that explained it all, assuring me that he would also remove the arthritic matter that was in there. Seventy minutes, tops.

So I figure either a little Band-Aid, like you can get at the supermarket, or a two-by-four strapped across my shoulders with a roll of duct tape. I’ll have to go through doors sideways and carry a beeper for when I back up.

In either event, it won’t be me rattling the rafters anymore. And for that I am very happy.

The view from shoe level

When those nice little old ladies fall on T.V., they always show the devoted daughters plugging in the handy dandy tracking device that calls the ever-vigilant bright-eyed neatly-dressed attendant at some distant calling center who promptly promises to send help “right away” when dear old mom next tumbles to the ground, sending prunes or grape nuts scattering in all directions.

What they don’t show you are the hours of physical therapy the nice little old ladies need before they are allowed back in those accident-prone, handicapped-inaccessible kitchens, the ones with overhead cupboards, ancient faucets, outdated appliances, and lack of walking space.

Let me tell you, falling and not being able to get up is the least of the problem. It’s likely to be that last bit of rest you’re going to get for a long time.

Sooner or later, a neighbor or friend or partner or wife or husband or child will wander by and you will have to admit that you are not looking at the interesting mid-20th century variegated pattern in the handsome wall-to-wall carpeting of your hallway, that in fact they might as well haul you to your feet, that—ouch—your right arm isn’t quite what it should be and perhaps we’d better call the doctor.

And so begins the usual round of Dr. This and Dr. That and x-ray this and x-ray that. It all takes a couple of weeks and a bunch of hemming and hawing and gulping down horse pills and sleeping with heat patches glued to your arm and tossing and turning all night long and nearly dropping the half-gallon of milk because you forget that you are one-armed these days.

And of course I can’t drive because I use hand controls and that takes two to tango. And oh, have I mentioned that CF broke her OTHER hand and is in a cast for three weeks? We shan’t discuss the sad circumstances under which it happened except to say that I will describe my stupidest fall and then tell you that hers was even more stupid:

I was doing yard work a few years ago, walking down our driveway, pushing our 65-gallon plastic garden waste cart ahead of me. It looks just like a garbage cart, the kind the town gives you for your garbage. Fortunately it was empty, and the top was open. I was tired, always my excuse. I lost my footing and stumbled forward, and ended up flat on my stomach, with my head and shoulders inside the garden waste cart. As far as I know, no one saw me. It happened on my birthday. At least hers wasn’t on her birthday. But it was close!

My most recent fall did not happen out of sight of friends and neighbors; it happened in plain sight of CF and just out of sight of NF, who had, let’s say, “neglected” to hold the door open for me, causing me to stumble up the short flight of stairs tween garage and laundry room, crashing to the ground and somewhat crushing the semi-antique aluminum cake carrier I was no longer holding but instead flinging to the ground, although I did try to brace myself by pushing off the wall dead ahead of me which simply caused me to double-bounce on top of said carrier and ricochet off the pile of newspapers waiting to be recycled. There was a slight cushioning effect, the one and only time, I am sure, that Mitt Romney will ever be of benefit to me.

The x-rays showed damage that will require physical therapy, which did not surprise me. I have done this before, because I fall a lot, and I always damage the right shoulder, which amuses me. I am left-handed, and for many, many years, I was a fast-pitch softball catcher. I imagined that at the least I would have new knees by now, or a ruined left shoulder. But no, those joints are fine. It is the much less used right shoulder that is turning arthritic, has bone spurs, and is continually being crushed and mangled by my falls.

The doctors can’t tell without an MRI if I’ve actually “torn something” in the rotator cuff or not, but they shot it full of cortisone and now it’s off to P.T. twice a week, where, should I fall, I will be immediately whipped back to my feet by two or more extraordinarily athletic young people. I need to warn them that I get dizzy if I stand up too fast. These are the same people who coaxed CF’s first broken paw back into shape, therapy that involved, among other magic treatments, dipping her hand in hot wax, a treatment that sounds so spa-like that I purr with envy. I suspect the closest I will come to hot wax will be bumping into the air freshener candle in the bathroom.

However many times I may stumble in P.T., I am sadly certain that I will fall again in real life, that I will again damage this shoulder. What I think I really need is to go to Falling School. I need to learn to fall properly. They must teach that somewhere. There must be professional fallers. Someone to teach you to not stick out your arms so you wreck your shoulders, but to tuck in your arms and roll with the flow. Someone to teach you to do a floor routine, like those gymnasts in the Olympics. After all, when I was in grade school, they taught us to survive a nuclear bomb. Certainly they can teach me to survive a three foot drop to the floor now.

I’m not too old. I can still learn. And I’m pretty sure there’s enough newspaper in the garage to use for cushioning.

Spring peepers

Every family has its own holiday traditions. Some gather ‘round the spinet to yodel out the carols; others spin the dreidel; others hunt the boggy beds for plastic eggs filled with cash or chocolate; others look forward to a nice piece of hamentash come Purim.

Mine invented a new one for itself this Easter. We made dioramas.

The idea, alas, wasn’t ours, although it should have been. It was right up our alley. After all, we invented the tradition of recreating the Thanksgiving meal in Play-Doh some 30 years ago. But that’s another story. Continue reading

Take me out to a whole new ball game

Sometime in January we managed to pry our son’s baseball uniform off of him so we could wash it in time for the games that began again last week. Actually, he outgrew the uniform, which was helpful, because it was really starting to stink.

He does have one non-uniform shirt. He got it from his baseball team. It reads, “There’s no off-season in baseball.” They mean it. But they do take the month of December off.

But now that the purportedly nice weather is here again in Olywa (which means that we are moving towards the 10 days of relatively light sprinkling rain before we hit the three months of dry scorching drought before we hit the nine months of daily downpour) (and people LOVE it here!), it’s time for all of us parents to get our baseball gear in gear too.

My son’s gear has been in his baseball bag since time began, well, since he joined this baseball club, which was four years ago. We dump it out from time to time, extract the empty bottled water bottles, gum wrappers, unidentifiable icky matter, unspeakably petrified sock remnants, hot dog fragments, and a Continue reading

Victory laps

Forgive me if this seems rushed. I had another blog entry all ready to go, but then two things happened that I decided were more important to write about, so I rushed to write this. That’s a bit of a joke, since me rushing to write anything these days means it takes me four days instead of seven.

But as you can see, my mind tends to wander a bit now, so my writing wanders too, and I really should try to get to the point a bit earlier, because I do actually have two this time, both victories of a small nature.

The thing with a brain trauma is there is no triumphant re-entry to the real world. There is no gigantic cast that comes off to reveal a healed leg, or realigned elbow, or un-discombobulated innards (is the opposite of discombobulated innards combobulated outtards?). All there is with a brain trauma is a bunch of little tiny steps back towards maybe normal, maybe not. Maybe yourself, maybe not. Maybe your old self, maybe your new self. You never know.

These two victories I think are one of each: one of maybe my new self, one of maybe my old self.

My new self graduated from physical therapy. I still walk with a cane, but that’s mostly for my own sanity. It reminds me to be careful. I think it makes other people give me wider berth. And it comes in handy when I am about to take a header, which is what it’s for, after all, and I do come close to falling way too often. So I guess I still need it. @$#%%@. And it gives me cred when I use a disabled parking spot. You should see the glares otherwise. Just ’cause you can’t see it doesn’t mean it ain’t there, folks!

But the big deal here is that I can step over boxes and stand on one leg and toss a ball and catch it and stand up/sit down repeatedly all so well that my physical therapist says I don’t have to see him anymore. Either that or we finally just ran out of stuff to talk about.

These therapy sessions take place in a big room, and everybody is talking and stepping and shuffling and bouncing at once, one big happy trying-to-become-better group. Some of the folks are from the rehab center next door, the one from which I fled, and others are outpatients like me. Occasionally I spot a client younger than I am, but usually I am the spryest in the room. My therapist is thrilled that I can throw a ball, and we got quite involved in kicking a soccer ball around, and then graduated to throwing it against a wall, which necessitated moving to a different room, which, I think, is what rang the death knell on my therapy. I was too good.

To which I say, good riddance.

So I hobbled a victory lap on that one.

And then there’s the old me victory. This one involves the two women who came to visit me when I was unconscious in the ICU, Julia and Teri.

I’ve known Julia and Teri literally since the first week I moved to Olywa. Our sons were all in first grade together, and I met them on the first day of class. Julia’s family and my family were new in town, and Teri and some other mothers fledged us as neo-Northwesterners. Julia has been caring for my conure (a kind of parrot) since August, and Teri has driven me to and from physical therapy once or twice a week. They have been wonderful friends, and they have wanted to take me to lunch for months.

And finally I felt ready. Finishing therapy had something to do with it. The new me was set free to let the old me emerge.

Going out for lunch with friends might not seem like a big deal, but it is a huge undertaking to someone who cannot multitask. It involves a great deal of planning and timing, and I got almost all of it right.

I had to start to prepare the night before, because I needed to set an alarm so I would wake up in time (my seizure medication can zone me out midmorning); I had to remember to give myself my insulin shot because my partner had left at 4:30 that morning and wasn’t there to do it; I had to remember to get my son situated because my partner wasn’t there to do it; I had to make sure four cats and a dog weren’t fighting like, well, cats and dogs; and I had to remember to get my little thank-you gift for Teri together and that’s what I forgot.

We had a very nice lunch and I had to trick Teri into coming back into the house with me so I could scramble around and get her gift together to give to her to thank her for schlepping me to and from P.T. all of those times so the slightly gimpy new me could emerge, able to step over 8-inch tall boxes and toss a soccer ball against any wall quite ably, and the old me could go to lunch with Julia and Teri and carry on a conversation, all the while downing a rather tasty lunch of Thai Ginger with Tofu.

It’s nice when the old me gets along with the new me.