Grateful? You Bet I Am

For 8 weeks this past summer I couldn’t drive, or dress myself, or haul the heavy ropes of wet laundry out of the washer and ‘thunk’ it into the drier. I had had the dread rotator cuff surgery on my right shoulder, which left me hurting like the dickens, both day and night. Also, as a righty, I could eat only with my left hand, which meant I spent a lot of meals feeding my ear.

Then, ten days ago, I had a second and unrelated fix-it repair and am now sporting a tidy zipper of stitches on my insides.

I am grateful today to be on the mend from both interventions. I can drive again, a good thing since some of those Uber drivers gave me a hard time for asking to be brought what they considered too-short distances to be worth their while. Once, still very early in my recovery, to spare myself the sulky lamentations of those few, I tried walking to my destination in my sling and brace, on a 93-degree day, along a road whose sidewalk suddenly gave out, such that I found myself picking my way in flip-flops along a trash-littered soil embankment that was tilted toward, rather than away from, the road – along which cars were zooming by, 15 inches from my teetering body.

Big mistake, that effort. I learned from it though, and am grateful for that. I’m grateful too that now I CAN haul stuff out of the washing machine. And almost dress myself without help. And deftly just fine with my right hand (and don’t I have a fresh little batter of fat to prove it!)

But really today I am grateful for so much more, as well all no doubt should be.

  • I’m grateful for the help of my family and for my women friends whose candor and open heartedness have created a kind of shelter in the storm for us all.
  • I’m grateful for the guys at Kevin Ryan’s Fells Hardware,  who routinely offer to cut the wrongly sized curtain rod I have brought in for a consult instead of having me buy the $40 shears that would let me to the job at home. “Why spend the money?” Kevin will say, he whose presumed goal is to get people to do exactly that. I have had such great talks with these folks over the years – about the pain of Shingles, about depression, about the War of Northern Aggression, as some Southern historians still refer to it.
  • I’m grateful for Jimmy at the Post Office, who lost his wife last winter and lets me now and then gently inquire as to how he is doing.
  • I’m grateful for John at the Shoe Hospital who gave me the name of a guy he said was the best window repair guy he had seen in his 87 years. The guy himself turned out to be on another project but he introduced us to his brother Mike Sheridan, who every day for 90 days from 7 ’til 3, came to this house and worked, both on ladders and in the machine shop he set up in our garage, so as to give new life to every single window and piece of trim on this gracious old lady of a house. Mike, your gifts with the living wood, as well as your meticulousness and work ethic, are remarkable and I hope you know that.

I go on too long here so I will have to get to the many others in another post.

My husband ALMOST went out to rake earlier but on seeing these frigid temps, settled for a morning indoors. He is in the shower now. Our son Michael and his Jen,  here from the big city, are still sleeping. And our daughters are texting hilariously back and forth to us all about the foods they’re trying to prepare for this afternoon’s feast. Soon we will get to be with all of them, plus a harvest of grandbabies and more family beyond that.

My assignment is only to provide two autumn salads and a raw vegetable plate, and maybe offer a consult on the gravy when that crucial moment comes. I need to be about that work now, but how could I let this lovely claret-colored morning pass without saying how lucky I feel right now for my many blessings, I am who am no more deserving than the many who this day are hungry or far from home? May we all  feel ourselves cradled in Hands far larger than our own, and in so feeling. do more and more and yet more for others.

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Whatever Follows

dogwood on LakeviewWhatever might follow in the weeks ahead I have to say this has been one beautiful season, and in spite of the usual vacillations. Temperatures hit the mid-80s one day and four days later we came close enough to a hard frost that a baby maple I see every day took a nasty fright and went instantly crimson. Now as I write, a big wind is muscling around outside,  giving even the grass blades a stern combing-back.

I sometimes hear westerners say our old New England is just all damp and claustrophobic with lowering skies and too-near horizons.  I don’t see it that way. 

Anyhow it’s sure not that way now on these bright tangy days that have us all feeling happy and energized as we kick through the leaves and set out those jolly toy balloons that the world calls pumpkins. My own personal housemate got to feeling so energized last weekend that he climbed out on two of our roofs to prune the limbs of trees that in actual fact didn’t need pruning at all (but that’s just me.) I watched with my heart in my mouth as he executed one deep squat after another while balancing inches from roof’s edge and then extending to its farthest reach a 12-food pole with a lethal sickle on the end and – SNAP!  pulling the trigger. Here he is first contemplating the job…

dpm contemplating the job

And beginning to execute it…

dpm up hi to prune

I sent our visiting houseguest Machias out to spot him in case he started to pitch forward and fall. (Machias is six-foot-nine with a rower’s mighty legs so I thought he could maybe execute a rescue.)

machias spots him

 

 

 

 

But “I’M FINE!” insisted  my mate –

and by some stroke of luck he turned out to BE fine as this triumphant look testifies.

smilin' Dave on the roof w machias

Myself, I attempted no such feats of strength and balance that day. I just walked a few miles, set out some seasonal decorations and reveled in all this beauty.

Here was the sun that day, glowing still strong at 5pm, behind one of our front porch columns….

the porch oct 5pm

Then at the top here was the sun only moments later in the side yard, filtered through our little dogwood…

And finally, out back, here was the sun setting our neighbors’ tree even further aflame.

the neighbor's maple.jpg

All this was on the Saturday. Then, on the Sunday, we had the privilege of attending the wedding celebration of a couple who, together with their families, threw one amazing party.

the wedding of alli & angela.jpg

It took place on a hillside farm with 180 guests on hand to enjoy popcorn and cider, adult beverages of every kind and food that never stopped coming.

in the barn

Best of all, the two brides helped make the music. Bride Alli, from all I can tell, plays every instrument on God’s green earth and her band was playing; whereas Bride Angela, by her own admission not a trained singer, took the mic and spoke of the meaning this one particular song has for them both.  Then, at first softly, and then in full and glorious voice, performed “Hallelujah,”  by the late Leonard Cohen.

Here’s my favorite recording of this wonderful song, that today seems to me to capture all the beauty and longing of earth’s seasons, and even of our own too-short lives.

Some Last Thoughts on the Judge

img_0408Earlier this week I heard some things on NPR that gave me a slightly altered perspective on Brett Kavanaugh: Someone who knew him at Yale said he was always the one standing by the keg hoping to get the girl. “He never got the girl,” she added.

A friend who also knew him from Yale spoke of how surprised he and his friends all were to learn at graduation that he had done quite well, a fact he attested to last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Through his whole student career, Kavanaugh said, (rather inelegantly) “I busted my butt in academics.”

And, as we now know, he also partied. Fifteen times in his testimony he spoke of beer. “I drank beer. I liked beer. I still like beer.” He wouldn’t answer when asked if he had ever had so much to drink that he blacked out. With a face contorted by anger at the presumption of this question by Senator Amy Klobuchar, he said, “I don’t know Senator, have you?”

So here’s a man about whom it can be said that he worked hard and he partied hard. Perhaps in his mind, as in many of our minds, he thought that the one thing justified the other. Many if not all prosperous Americans feel they richly deserve the fancy car, the ski vacation Aspen, the commodious house surrounded by wide green lawns, and never mind that others in this country also work hard; work at two, even three, jobs and stand at bus stops both in the dark of morning and in the dark of night. They know they can never let loose and party hard because of the silent judgment directed toward those who have less, especially if they are people of color or people otherwise judged as ‘other’. Think of the still closely-held belief that reveals itself in that old American taunt, “If you’re so smart why ain’t you rich?” That tells you what we value all right. The accumulation of wealth is the primary measure of a person’s worth.

Still, my mind keeps returning to this image of that 19- or 20- or 21-year-old boy who stood so often by the keg hoping to get the girl and rarely got her. He told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he was virgin in high school and “for many years after.” I’ll admit I laughed out loud on hearing that last week in my car but maybe it was true. I know that most of my classmates were virgins in high school, as I was myself. And I dare say most of us stayed that way for one or two years after but not for ‘many years’. By the age of 19 or 20 most of us had begun seeing ourselves as adults and were getting about the business of living. And I do understand that the world was different then. This was in the later mid to late part of the 1960s. But in the self-indulgent, feel-good 80s Brett Kavanaugh was still clinging to his virginity for those many years he speaks of? That strikes me as both sad and unlikely.

I know the Senate will likely have cast their vote to move the nomination forward before I get these scattered thoughts posted. Still, I had to set them down. The Judge’s notions – as well our own notions of what we are entitled to – expose dark trends in our possession-loving American hearts. We want what we want and we’re sure we deserve what we want. And that’s the best way I can state it at the moment.

Can’t Cook, or Clean, or Do Laundry

I still can’t cook, or clean, or do laundry. That’s what the surgeon still says, God help me.

It’s been some summer I’ve been having, as full of twists and turns as the classic Wild Mouse ride that almost yanks your head clear off the celery-stalk of your dear little neck. (Or wait, maybe it’s more accurate to call those twists and turns ‘ups and downs’ in honor of all the Big Boy roller coasters out there.)

The story is, I had one of the tendons in my shoulder repaired in mid-June and it’s kind of sad, because even all this way through August I dread the nights for the pain that they bring. When you’re moving around as you do during the day, see, you’re sort of ok, in part because your movements pump the healing blood up into the site, a badly needed thing since, as I understand it, the shoulder doesn’t have much of a blood supply on its own. Most nights, by contrast, I’m so sleep-deprived I keep thinking I’m the parent of a newborn again,

Ah but the mornings! The mornings this summer have been lovely. This is the view from the guest bedroom, a view I relished every morning as I sat sling-bound in my rented recliner chair. fullsizeoutput_5127

So an undeniable upside has been having the time to look out the window at Nature.

A second downside, however, is I can’t near do near enough walking, since walking any real distance makes the pain in my shoulder worse. (Now if I were a NUN, gliding along on the roller skates my sister Nan and I always suspected the nuns in our convent school had hidden under their robes, it probably wouldn’t hurt much at all.)

But the upside there? I’m getting a LOT of reading done.

A third downside is that I can’t blowdry my hair. Oh, I can wash it, sort of, using my one functioning arm. I just CANNOT lift both arms in the way you need to do to blow it dry. And without blowdrying, my hair looks like a stainless steel  scouring pad after months of use when it loses its integrity and just splays out in runaway coils. I shouldn’t complain about that, I know, because now I get to go to this walk-in salon where I can get any one several operators to style and blowdry my hair FOR  me – and really only once did I get a stylist who gave me a definite Phyllis Diller look.

2007-16081

Fourth downside, and I’ll stop here, I promise:

I can’t wear the contact lenses I have relied on for nearly 30 years. I just can’t get them IN, where I need both hands for that operation and I can’t get my dominant hand anywhere near my eye. I’ve never worn glasses in my life until now and frankly I’m not doing so well with the whole progressive lens thing. But the upside here if I’m honest?  What I’m really doing this summer is getting a whole lot of binge-watching in, and God bless the invention of TV!

So here we are…

 I slept poorly last night, natch, but again this morning I woke to a matchless summer dawn.  Below, the view from my office-that-is-an-office-no-more since I’ve left the column-writing game but is instead just an airy upstairs room that anyone at all can relax in. In fact you guys should come by anytime! I have a fridgeful of eats from the Prepared Foods aisle and I can show you my newly mastered trick of tucking in the top sheet on even a king-size bed using just my own little toes.

(Click on the video if it looks askew. It plays right when you do.) 

 

The Upside of Being on the DL

I think where I last left off in this absorbing tale  I was two days out of surgery and throwing up on my new recliner ‘lift’ chair, an apparatus that still looks to me like a still from a Stephen King movie where somebody’s long-suffering furniture comes alive and goes after its idiot owner.

IMG_0229

Today though, I’ll spare you further grisly tales and say only that there are real silver linings to recovering from an operation. I mean, where would the world be without the caregivers, whether paid or voluntary? Immediately after ‘losing it’ in that grab–the-towels way,  I called two RN friends, both of whom manifested like a couple of  heavenly apparitions, one bearing an analgesic far less terrifying than the oxy the surgeon had prescribed. (And THAT stuff, whoo! You take it and you still have the pain, all right. You just also have a whole lot of other weird sensations too. On oxycodone I felt like a wildly scrambled swirl of hurt wrapped up in a cotton candy cocoon.)

Besides remembering that I was the recipient of a lot of good care in those first weeks spent feebly sitting around in my ice-filled sling I now recall watching a super long, multi-episode documentary about the Roosevelts.  Visitors came and went and I would greet them with  “Look! It’s the Roosevelts!” to which most would reply, in somewhat puzzled fashion, “Ah yes, the Roosevelts.”

I also remember in this early time of confinement actually looking at some of the seeming thousands of catalogs that drop through my mail slot every week . It seems I am now officially, and universally, targeted as a likely customer for catalogs with names such as “A Time for Me”, whose translation might as well be “Make Your Own Damn Dinner,” and “As We Change,” whose primary message is “Of Course WE Like Your New Mustache But Should You Ever Wish to Get Rid of it Our Newly Patented Mini-Taser Will Do the Job Nicely.)  Mostly of course such catalogs are marketing just two main items: (1) Loose-fitting clothing and (2) Vibrators. Who knew?

And look at that: Even setting down such a racy observation shows me that now, with the knife eight whole weeks in my past, I’m at last getting back my ability to smile. 🙂

24 Hours Post-Op

The initial 24 hours following my rotator cuff surgery were event-filled all right, but mostly for the hidden gifts they brought me.  The first gift came when, on returning home just two hours after the surgeon had packed up his saws and chisels, I saw that my friend Sarah had alighted like a benevolent fairy on this house and left an entire meal, along with an array of wildflowers that looked like they were straight from the opening scene of The Sound of Music. She had even set the table with two goblets, a nice wine for David and some sparkling water for me.

I ate it all, if a tad tentatively, then spent that first night quaking with dread over the  real pain that was sure to ensue, while an electric ice machine with a Mr. Snuffleupagus-like snout nuzzled around inside my giant brace.

post surgery sling brace

I’m pretty sure that by morning David couldn’t get off to work fast enough, but THAT WAS OK, THAT WAS FINE because we both knew I had a heavenly host of caregivers – well, two caregivers – arriving at 9:00.

Aisha was the actual caregiver and Gayle was her supervisor. Gayle had come twice before, first to interview me the week before the operation and again several days later to lend me two chairs, one for the shower and one with rails to set over the toilet, this one being designed so that, having sat down, a person could hopefully, with a mighty one-armed effort, stand up again without pitching over into the wall and onto to the floor.

Aisha was from Uganda as she told me, and a more sensitive companion I could not have asked for. I vaguely remember her helping me down the stairs and settling me into the amusement park ride of a reclining lift chair we were told to procure. I recall the two of us speaking at first about Idi Amin and Lake Victoria and later about how meaningful she finds it, in her other job at the nursing home, to sit in the presence of the dying. Weeks after her visit I came upon the notes she had made about her time with me. She called me ‘a wonderful lady’  – this in spite of my exceedingly sparse knowledge of her home country – and added that I was “alert and oriented. “Ask her what she wants you to do for her and she will let you know. She has been a little shaky walking but is generally very strong. The shift is ending now at 3:30, and Terry is resting in her chair. She has had plenty to drink but has eaten very little.”

Eating very little doubtless because within an hour of her departure I threw up and lost not only the breakfast in bed that my mate had made for me but all of Sarah’s lovely food from the night before. “David! Dodson! A bowl!” I yipped to my husband and honorary son seconds before it was too late,  but didn’t they hurry into the living room, the dears, reassuring me that this was no big deal and quickly wiping away all the ‘evidence’.

This was just the first 24 hours of my 50-days-and-counting post-op period and if it will help any other candidates for this surgery I can tell about other days as well. I can’t write in my diary yet – too painful to hold a pen – so this serves as a record for me as well.

In the meantime here are Dodson and David way back in the old days when ONE of them, at age 18, was still just a little shy about open displays of affection. 🙂

Dodson and Dave '90

One Bad Wing

All through May and half of June I knew I was about to have the famously painful rotator cuff surgery, and what I pictured was so bad it practically scared the hair coloring right off my head. Day and night I lived in the kingdom of panic.

HOW, for example, would I go about the so-called Activities of Daily Life with my dominant arm immobilized in the large contraption I would have to wear day and night for six or eight or even (gad!) ten weeks? What about bathroom tasks? Should I be fashioning hundreds of little ‘corsages’ out of toilet paper like the ones we made from Kleenex for our moms when we were kids? I knew I wouldn’t be able to reach over that big sling/brace to reach the ol’ Charmin roll, affixed to the wall on my dead side as it is. 

toilet paper carnations

And what about feeding myself? How would I one-handedly slide a baking-panful of heavy raw chicken into the oven, much less heave a pot of water onto the stove for pasta? How would I even SEE, since I wouldn’t be able to reach my eyes to put in my contacts?

“You can lift a coffee cup and a fork and that’s it,” the surgeon’s assistant had told me a month before Scalpel Time. “You cannot send your arm out to the side. You cannot  lift it to the front. And you, cannot, under any circumstances, reach it behind you. BUT HEY YOU’LL BE FINE!” he crowed gaily. “Just think of yourself as half a T-Rex with one tiny arm!”

As warnings go, these were dire but they were honest too. And once the knives and saws and drills came out on June 14th at two o’clock in the afternoon, I set aside all feelings of dread and got down to the business of getting through.

The surgeon did too. He and his team yanked the two ends of my severed tendon together and stitched it over with what I picture as the kind of indestructible packing tape you use when you’re mailing packages. He drilled and sawed and sewed for two-plus hours and sent me home three hours after that with the admonition that I was not to lie down for eight weeks but rather sleep sitting up, either propped with a million pillows in the bed or else in a reclining ‘lift’ chair.

That was almost seven weeks ago and during all this time I haven’t been able to write with a pen. Even keyboarding hurts like the devil. Oh but there have been  so many things I have wanted to say here, most of them not even about this procedure! I just wanted to get this grisly tale told first.

post rotator cuff 'graffiti'a week post-op

So yes, I’m severely limited still. Flossing too is about impossible, I can’t drive and I couldn’t chop an onion if I wanted to. But just thinking here about those toilet paper corsages has me smiling, and that’s something all by itself. 🙂