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.

Poof! The Magic Dragon!

Those among you who are writers or who have ever done any editing or writing know that one tends to rearrange the odd bits and pieces of sentences one puts together as time goes by and inspiration strikes. That’s what I’ve done here, not necessarily to improve this piece of writing, but to demonstrate my frustration with my best efforts to take care of myself.

Ever since I had shoulder surgery in November, it has been impossible to type. It’s been impossible to do anything with my right arm, including drive a car, wash the dishes, put on my $996 sling, or clean the cat litter.

Finally Amazon had pity on me and sent me a $49 coupon for Dragon Naturally Speaking, which was cheap enough for me. I’d nearly bitten at $139 two weeks earlier. When the package from Amazon arrived, I ripped it open, ran through the installation, went through all the required training sessions so the Dragon learned how I talked/croaked, and started to dictate this blog entry.

The first thing I wanted to do was make the display in my word processor a bit larger and easier to read by using its zoom command. So I calmly and clearly dictated the proper Dragon command:


This is where the editing I mentioned earlier comes in. Everything I’ve written so far I wrote after I tried to set the zoom setting to 125%. Now I will show you exactly what Dragon Naturally Speaking typed for me when I told it to set the zoom setting to 125%:

set soon to 125

select resume to 125

set assume two 125

set soon to 125

Those are the exact lines it printed for me, rather than zooming. Then I gave up. The last line above them that I just typed is the first time it has ever printed the word “zoom” when I told it to. Victory! I just had to look up how to make it print an exclamation mark. I finally zoomed myself.

However, DNS has done pretty well with my general typing otherwise in this blog. I’ve been able to keep my right arm in my lap and use my left arm for everything. My physical therapist will be very happy to hear that tomorrow.

Before I purchased DNS, I tried some other dictation software that I found on the Web, some free stuff that had good recommendations. I tried to use it but it was the week I was writing about pretzels, and things didn’t go very well.

In fact, things were worse than with that zoom command. Unfortunately, in my frustration, I did not record the results. It was a ridiculously complicated pun, probably best forgotten, undoubtedly unnecessarily reproduced here. After numerous false starts and stops, deep fat fryers, plump young friers, and plump old friars, I ended up with:

Pretzels were invented by friars who baked them. They just as easily could have been invented by bakers who fried them.

Just to satisfy my curiosity, I tried out those sentences in DNS. Except for unnecessarily capitalizing the word “friars,” it cranked them out perfectly.

Speaking of deep fat frying, I was a bit worried about opening the DNS package. “Ignite, ignite, ignite,” it read, no fewer than eight times, in some sort of marketing ploy to inspire me to the heights of creativity. “Ignite Fun At Your PC.” “Ignite Convenience.” “Ignite Control.” This just sent me scrambling for the fire extinguisher to hose down the package before I opened it. Fortunately, CDs are waterproof.

Perhaps I am straining at gnats and swallowing camels as the Bible says. Hah! That actually came out as “straining at bats.” As you can see, I am having way too much fun with this software.

I have other bats to strain and I hope this Dragon will help me strain them, although dragons are usually associated with slaying rather than straining. Once again, the metaphor gets pushed beyond its natural boundaries.

By other bats I mean I have other things to write rather than this blog, things to get done before my arm is ready for me to do them. For example, I write the obituaries for Bates College, something I enjoy doing, believe it or not, because I write a little profile about every person. I’m also working on a novel. So I need either both arms or a microphone.

And now that DNS understands my conversation, I just have to get it to understand my commands. “Sit.” “Roll over.” “Zoom.” “Good boy.” Hey, we’re getting somewhere.

Do, Ti, La, So, Fa, Mi, Re, Do

Julie Andrews, in the guise of Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music, would have you start at the very beginning. But I’m going to start at the very end, and go backwards, you might say.

I’m out of the hospital.

I’m in one piece and in one place. And I’m still not talking about pretzel thoughts.

But I’m home, after two long and boring nights in the hospital after CF insisted on taking me to the doctor when all I wanted to do was go shopping for interesting and silly items to Kris Kringlize for her oversize footwear hanging from our ersatz fireplace.

The doctor decided I needed to go to the E.R., which decided I needed to be admitted to the attached hospital because I had blood clots in my lungs as a result of the rotator cuff surgery I had had several weeks earlier.

The hospital decided I needed to be on blood thinners for the next six months, so they stuck needles with a blood thinner into my stomach until it turned black and blue all over. I would have howled like a dog with rabies, except I had a very nice roommate this time, not to mention my own television, which I kept turned off except for The Good Wife marathon I stumbled upon.

But now I have to take Warfarin every day and go to a special clinic all the time where they prick my finger and test my blood to make sure it is nice and thin so it doesn’t clot up again. Me and Hillary. La ti la ti la.

The shoulder surgery was quite successful, day surgery actually, no hospital stay involved, and it happened on November 20, 2012, as planned. I emerged from it wearing a flimsy little sling on my right arm and clutching a bottle of Vicodin in my left hand. The bottle of Vicodin was covered by my insurance, but the sling was not.

It was ordered by the surgeon from a company that is “out of network.” It is your basic cotton polyester sling, absolutely basic, one that even I with my substandard sewing skills could manage to make from a hunk of cloth. It is so insubstantial that the physical therapists laughed at it when they saw it. They laughed at it! In fact, they had to modify it to make it fit me properly. One of them looked it up online and found a similar one selling for about $10. Now, here is the kicker: the out-of-network company charged me $996 for it. My insurance company covers half of that. Cost to me: $498. So. Too much “Do.” We’ll see about that.

What with my arm in a sling and my ever-handy cane, I presented quite the sight this holiday season. All I needed was an eye patch to complete the picture. I kept thinking about buying one just for the effect, but for the first few weeks, before I was diagnosed with the blood clots, I was feeling worse and worse and really could only concentrate on trying to breathe and stay awake.

Blood clots on your lungs make you feel really glum and dull and depressed. I just wanted to sleep all the time. I couldn’t walk from one room to the next without losing my breath. CF thought it was asthma or allergies, and kept making me take puffs from an inhaler, which did no good, but I kept pretending it was a help, mostly because I am an idiot, but also because I didn’t want to know what was really going on, such as something scary like congestive heart failure or pneumonia or FA FA FA FA I’M NOT LISTENING ANYMORE.

So let us review, backwards of course. Blood clots on lungs, because of rotator cuff surgery, because of a torn tendon, because of a fall, one of many, because of a stroke, because of a bad reaction to medication, because of multiple sclerosis. Anyone want to play dominos?

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the holidays? They were quite lovely, albeit low key, except that I completely missed a dear friend’s birthday, was very late with my sister’s present, sent a bizarre gift to my nephew, struck out completely with my present to my mother, but managed to somehow pull it together enough to bring smiles to CF’s and NF’s faces. And I hear that the LL Bean mad bomber hats I sent to my niece and her husband were the hits of the day.

Thus we wobble into 2013, thinner in blood, stronger in spirit, shored up in shoulder. We vow before you to set these goals for the coming year: to clean our office; to resume our weekly blog; to read the Sunday New York Times before Tuesday. Modest goals, but goals nonetheless.

And as Julie Andrews, in the guise of Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music would tell you, we must climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow, ’til we find our dream.

My dream, modestly speaking, is a clean office, a weekly blog, and a fully-read Sunday New York Times.

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.