Excitement at OC


I’ve mentioned on several occasions the concern with food quality here at the facility, and the rather universally held dismay at what arises from the kitchen and is called ‘food’. I dwelt at some length on the disaster known as ‘prime rib’—and there have been several other occasions of similar response, including the great Pistachio Pudding Uprising of a couple of months ago.

Well, before I go any further, let me hasten to say that a room full of 80-year-olds who have little to think about BUT meals is at best a discerning audience. We make our way down the broad hallway to the dining hall, suspiciously sniffing the breeze and prepared to do battle, no matter what.

Our first quarrel is with the menu board. “I can’t read that!” snaps Irene, who sits at my table. “Neither can I,” echoes Trudy. “Why do they use a pale green magic marker?”

“It’s so we DON’T know what we’re getting,” someone else observes, and continues, “Even after we’ve eaten the meal, we may not know what we’ve had.”

Clearly the problem is easily solved: we convince the food server to use black ink on the menu white board. But that’s not the only problem with the 4@#$R% board: it LIES! Yesterday it called a cherry pie ‘apple’, and pea-and-peanut salad a ‘chef salad’. These are disastrous mistakes if you are 85 or so, and have been anticipating this meal since the minute you were last wheeled out of the dining hall. The kitchen credibility is ruined and the consumers are muttering something about ‘the cook doesn’t know what he’s cooking: he can’t tell an apple from a cherry.”

The menu is also duplicated at our places: we are to check off our choices and sign our names so that the plates will be accurate and the staff will know what we’ve eaten. (Talk about identity theft! They record our eating habits, our water-drinking, and our elimination, what time we go to bed and wake up and bathe.) At any rate, my meal companions study the menu with deep seriousness, commenting on the dietary balance: “Potatoes AND oatmeal for breakfast? Isn’t that a little starchy?” “Water melon? Who eats watermelon for breakfast? “ “Isn’t a 7-layer salad the one with all the mayonnaise? What food value is there in mayonnaise?”

And so it goes: Irene stares at the menu as if it is an evil ransom note demanding payment for the return of her firstborn, Trudy comments that the salads at Wendy’s are really much better because there isn’t so much ‘white lettuce’, and Marion and I both mutter that we could do a better job ourselves using our great grandmother’s recipes.

Now under these circumstances, Mario Batali (who has a summer home a few miles from here) couldn’t please everyone in this crowd. But there’s gotta be a villain in every story, and for this audience it’s the ‘chef’ in the basement who is madly concocting chili that’s too spicy (or too bland), lasagna that falls apart rather than hangs together in layered squares, and who squirts a lot of whipped cream on the apple pie so that we won’t know it’s really cherry.

Today, however, was different. Well, somewhat different. The dinner menu said we’d be served chicken Cacciatore (spelled phonetically), bowtie alfredo, and some salad and dessert. “What’s this chatatoori stuff?” “Is there dark meat?” “Who’d ever put cacciatore and alfredo in the SAME meal?”

Amazingly, the food was good! The chicken breast was moist, the sauce mildly spicy, and the alfredo creamy, if incongruous. Rumor spread quickly: “A new chef in the kitchen!” It’s true, said the management. The new hire showed up today to fill out paperwork prior to starting his job at Orchard Creek next week, saw that the facility was understaffed, due to the huge snowstorm last night, and stayed and cooked dinner out of the goodness of his heart.

So…management loves this guy. The diners are largely satisfied (though Clarence wants a peanut butter and jelly sandwich). Gleefully, we predict better things ahead, beginning next Tuesday when he actually comes on board.

“Well, maybe,” sniffs Irene. “We’ll see.”



On Being without Music….


A friend of mine had a question which she asked everyone she met: “What’s your passion?”, she would inquire. Often she was answered with blank looks, sometimes shocked-open eyes. Then she had to explain what she meant: passion is that which moves you in the deepest, most personal sense and overwhelms most of the rest of your life.

Sharon believed that everyone needs at least one passion in their lives. For her it was music, which she came back to when she was at mid-life, and discovered that she had wonderful natural musical talent and a love of sharing her music with whomever would listen. Sharon was so in love with music that it overcame any reticence she might have otherwise had: once on a business trip to San Diego we realized that she was no longer with us as we walked down the street to lunch. We retraced our steps and there she was: businesswoman in suit playing a fiddle solo for the itinerant street musician!

Sharon and I shared a love of music, and I learned about life’s passions from her. Like Sharon, I came to my true musical self somewhat late in my life, and with a totally different approach than my earlier involvement as a classical flute player. I reincarnated as a hammered dulcimer player, and then moved on to Irish whistles and the hurdy gurdy. It was the music, rather than the instrument, which drew me in—I love the happiness of Irish music, and the heartiness and surprises of French dance tunes.

I don’t particularly enjoy solo performance, either: I simple love to play music alone or with other people.

Since October 8, 2007, I have not played music. Not one note. I haven’t practiced, learned a new tune, or sat in a Monday evening Irish music session at The Loading Dock bar. I have had friends over two times in early October to play a little music, but since I fractured my hip, I really can’t sit comfortably enough to even try to play. Since the infections, I have an IV line in my right arm and the first thing the doctors said was, “Avoid repetitive motions with your right arm.” I thought, no snow shoveling or firewood chopping! And then I thought, No hurdy gurdy cranking, either.

So, I can’t sit and I can’t crank. How depressing! Besides, I am here at Orchard Creek, where the sounds of twenty television sets regularly bounce from room to room. I suppose I could go ask all my housemates to turn down their hearing aids so I could practice and not disturb them, but somehow I think I would meet with resistance. And I don’t even like to listen to music much right now: it’s like taking  just a spoonful of someone’s luscious dessert– why didn’t I order a whole one for myself?

One of my coaching clients once said to me: “ I want more music in my life. That’s one of my goals—more music.” I asked, “What would more music look like? Can you imagine yourself with ‘more music’? Can you describe what your life would be?”

That’s the key, of course. If we can mold goals into passions, and if we can visualize, live and breathe those passions—then we are on the right track to meaningful direction and personal change. And for me, physically sidelined for the moment from my musical passion, music must live in my imagination–not just the tune itself, but the feel of air under my fingers and the sound of the bodhran as it mimics my heartbeat.


Lazy Saturday


Saturdays at Orchard Creek are sleepy and silent.  Of course it was snowing here today—seems like it’s snowed for weeks on end—but it was warm enough that the skiers and dog walkers were out on the beautiful trail that runs behind the building, so there was no end of movement outside.

Inside though, it was hushed and still.  Many of the patients have gone home, or will go home within the next couple of days.  I am pleased for them: one is Al, who has really become quite spry—he’s handy with the walker and is quite the food critic as well.  It seems he managed a commercial cafeteria in his earlier years, and as he gains strength, so does his voice: “I’d be ashamed to serve something like this!” and “Cutting a piece of beef isn’t rocket science—how come you still make an unholy mess out of a brisket?”  Of course, his rage is directed at an absentee ‘chef’, who is downstairs in the bowels of the basement kitchen.  Al will do fine at home though: he can play cards with ‘The Boys’ as often as he wants and wear his red and black flannel shirt and his blue checked flannel pants and no one will say a word!

Others are gearing up to leave as well, including Motormouth, who cruises the hall in the middle of the night, telling his life story to anyone who will listen (and most of us have gotten wise and shut our doors).  Motormouth seems to think that the entire care staff is here for his own personal benefit: “Empty my wastebasket.”  “Bring me a pain pill.” “I need ice water.” I think this Lord and Master role he assumes is directed at staff…but on second thought perhaps that’s the way he treats women in general. I think everyone will be happy to see him go and take his new knee and his false teeth with him.

As for me, people ask ‘how long will you stay at Orchard Creek?’  The answer is, ‘I don’t know.’  As long as I have this spacer where my hip joint should be, I will not be able to put any pressure on my right foot.  So think Wheelchair and Walker. I will also be getting the antibiotic every other day, so I will need help with that.  Perhaps as I begin to feel better I will have the energy to cope with these daily chores, but right now I am perfectly content to be under house arrest, as it were. 

How do I spend my time?  Reading, mostly. And on the computer.  I’ve written a few things, completed a feasibility study for a software product, and I am working on a large one-day real estate conference which will be held in Michigan in April.  Soon I will begin a research and writing project, and I am really looking forward to it: it will help me escape the landscape of blood draws and picc lines and other medical necessities.  I also rely on friends to visit me and bring me a fresh breath of The Outside World as well as occasional meals and treats (I secretly agree with Al on the food issue here at OC). 

No, it’s not all bad, I think to myself as I pull the quilt over me and grab the latest in the series of mystery stories that I ordered from Amazon Dot Com.  And if things get really slow, there’s always that lovely box of See’s Candies that Ginnie sent me from San Francisco….

Recently in her blog, Cindy Butts said

“There’s a thing on blogs called meme – giving personal perspective on random topics or questions. Bloggers tag other bloggers to write things …. this time about themselves. Likely to make us seem like real people? I was tagged by Ben Martin on this topic, so here goes” ….Cindy then lists 8 Things People Don’t Know About Me, and concludes with “I’ll tag: GertieCranker. She’s such a gifted writer and her personal blog is a glimpse into the realities of unexpected turn of events after retirement from 30 years in association management”. (http://cindyae.blogspot.com/2008/01/8-things-you-dont-know-about-me.html)

Thanks for the compliment on my writing, Cindy…but now I have to come up with 8 Things People Don’t Know About Me. And then I have to tag someone else, right? I assume the person I tag will be another blogger, too….

Coming up with things people don’t know about me is tough: I like to think I live a pretty transparent life with few hidden secrets. What people know, or don’t know is not an issue for me, I think, though I’ve never been particularly outgoing about my private life. Anyway, I’ll try.

I like gargoyles. I don’t think there’s a reason that I put this first, but I was thinking back into my childhood, and the thing I remember is gargoyles. I belonged to a Methodist-Episcopal Church, a weird denominational combination, and our sanctuary was very formal. Lining the walls at the end of every arch was a carved wooden face. All those years of sitting in the choir and staring at those guys, and I never knew who they were—some said the Humors of Man, and others said The Twelve Apostles. I didn’t know for sure, but I found their round mahogany cheeks comforting and friendly, and I have always been attracted to masks ever since—although right now I have an aversion to those white paper ones the nurses put on when they come in my room….

I’m a frustrated blues singer. Never mind that I can’t sing a note—in my most colorful fantasies I am up there on stage, looking and sounding a lot like Peggy Lee in that classic George Shearing album, “Beauty and the Beat”.

Privacy is important to me. I need to have a space to call my own where I can read and think. I used to think that it was somehow shameful to be an introvert, until my friend Jeremy pointed out that introverts recharge their batteries with a quiet evening and a good book, while gregarious people need a party and a cell phone. That also explains why I live alone in a cute little cabin in a swamp in Northern Michigan.

Simplicity is a major goal of mine. I haven’t always done too well at achieving it—I acquire way too many ‘things’. Who needs five hurdy gurdies and twenty-two pennywhistles, after all? But I am committed to change all that. Bedside tables are important in helping me determine my priorities, I am finding. A book, a computer, and some ice water is about all I can handle these days.

Travelling is fun. I frequently travel alone, so I get used to staying in one place and looking around me, rather than skimming lots of places to say “I’ve been there.” Travel to Eastern Europe has been one of the most revealing experiences of my life.

I don’t like exercise. I’ve never been particularly athletic, and I just don’t trust my body when I am in a tight spot, like walking a plank or hanging from a tree branch. One of the most humiliating moments in my life was seeing my husband and my very strong girlfriend take off on cross-country skis, leaving me far behind and struggling through the snow banks. I tolerate working out in the gym, but only because it’s good for me, just like spinach or cod liver oil.

I am working at eliminating competition in my life. I was brought up in an atmosphere in which I was compared to others at every turn: “Nancy got all A’s.” “Patty is always so polite.” “None of the other girls eat with their left hand.” Defining one’s self in terms of how others managed the same activity was the way I thought one evaluated personal worth. What a great sense of freedom it brings me to truly not care if I ‘win’ or ‘lose’, or receive recognition, or triumph at Scrabble! I am making a conscious effort to walk away from all competitive activity, and concentrate on ‘personal best’ as a marker of achievement. It is why I am enjoying music again, too—the world of folk music is a world of enjoyment , not a place to have ‘challenges’ for solos and to see what part the musician will play.

Is this ‘eight’ yet? No—it’s only seven! Sheesh.

Well, let’s see…I read mystery stories as a way to relax my mind. I’d say I read an average of three a week. But I don’t watch television—ever. And why do I like them? I think primarily because there is an ending to the tangled web humans weave, and that’s a relief from real life, where there are no endings, just another tangled web to sort through. But in the classic mystery, by the end of the book the murderer has been found, the lovers love, and justice is done. It’s not that way in the world I walk in, so it’s a relaxation to have everything turn out all right, and have a sense of justice in the world—unrealistic as that may be.

Ok, that’s ‘eight.’ Now I get to tag someone with the same challenge: name 8 things about yourself that people don’t know about you. I will name my friend and fellow life coach Julia Fabris McBride (http://www.coachjulia.net) . Julia, I hope you have as much fun with the topic as I did. And I hope the challenge brings you back to your blog of wonderful discovery at http://communitycollaborations.blogspot.com .



The next best thing…

OK, let’s talk about Judith’s Folly.  Well, it wasn’t a ‘folly’, really—at the time it seemed like an intelligent although impetuous decision.  What I did was purchase some land in the Bahamas: I became a co-owner, along with my friend Lynn, of a fisherman’s cottage/artist studio on the Bahamian out-island of Eleuthera, in the village of Tarpum Bay.

Of course, the building needs a lot of work—the previous owner died before he could complete the conversion project, leaving the structure roofless and without a second story.  However, last summer we found a builder and got the plans approved—we are ready to start.  (Actually, we are long passed ‘ready to start’, but that’s another story…)  So, this spring was the time to corral our builder and chain him to the rebar and get started. We were on a roll!

Until now.

Let’s face it, Gertie, Eleuthera is not happening for you this spring!  You might as well cancel your plane tickets and tell Lynn that she’ll have to take on Daniel the Builder all by herself, because you are not going to get on an airplane on February 10, or any time for months thereafter.

I haven’t really written about this subject before because it is such a huge disappointment in my life—all of the planning and delighted daydreams of sunshine and blue water and the sleepy village, and the miles and miles of deserted sand beaches.  These dreams were where I went when the Blue People were hovering over me in the operating room, and the Yellow People were snapping on their gloves before entering my isolation ward. 

I pretended that the swish of the Night People in the hallway was really the sound of waves against the pink sand, and that the occasional thump of a door slamming was really a falling coconut. As I placed my order for dinner from the hospital menu, I thought about the 3 PM visits to the Tarpum Bay fishing dock where we selected the fresh-caught fish we would have for dinner, followed by Miss Mary’s coconut cake. 

I didn’t want to talk about all of this—the thoughts  bring only sadness and disappointment, and sharing my feelings seemed to make them all too real.  But a couple of days ago, someone here at OC asked about the beautiful pictures on my laptop screen saver, and I began to share a little of my Eleuthera dreams. “Not this year,” I said.  “But soon.”

Today I took my usual morning jaunt to the physical therapy room,  and begin my slow and sometimes painful workouts.  I was squeezing the rubber ball between my knees when Kristen the Therapist came in the room and said, “Wow!  I love your palm tree!”  I had no clue what she was talking about, so I nodded politely and resumed squeezing.  It wasn’t until she wheeled me back to my bedroom that I saw it: a six-foot palm tree tacked on my door!  I open the door and ye gods and little fishes: There are tropical fish and parrots hanging from the ceiling, and lanterns, pineapples, and banners everywhere.  Even my bedside table has a grass skirt and there is a huge and garish parrot hanging over the toilet.

Well, who can be sad and feel sorry for herself in this gala environment?  Not I!  Eleuthera will still be there next year—and in the meantime, the OC staff has given me the greatest hug I could ever wish for.oc-room1.jpg


On knowing things


It’s almost 1 AM and I’m awake, as usual.  I’ve slept well for a couple of hours, and now the night shift is on, bringing me fresh ice water and a friendly “Hi.  You look nice and snug! Be glad you’re warm in your bed: it’s 6 degrees out there…”

So, now that I’m awake for a while, I turn on my computer to check my email.  I’ve been on the receiving end of some wonderful emails lately, many from people I don’t know who’ve been reading this blog and have stories to share or words of encouragement to offer.  I know there is truth in what my friend Paul says, that there’s nothing like a card in hand that you can touch and caress and hang on the refrigerator, but there’s such immediacy in hearing from someone with a like story or an immediate outpouring stimulated by something I may have said!  I even had an email from my techy friend Gerry, suggesting how I might overcome the Sheet Strangulation Syndrome I mentioned in an earlier blog entry.

In my mailbox is a note from Lisa, my daughter-in-law—Lisa the Wonder-Nurse, I call her.  Lisa is at work tonight, and writes that she checked in with a friend of hers, also a nurse on the orthopedic floor, about the pain I am having.  “It’s natural with a spacer,” she says, “to have more pain”.  And she gives me advice about managing the situation.  She also tells me what I should be looking for in the way of warning signs that my body might be responding to the antibiotics in an unfavorable way, and reminds me to eat yogurt, since the good bacteria get destroyed along with the bad ones in this kind of regimen.

Earlier this evening, the nurse on duty here at OC mentioned that when she found out I was coming back to the facility, she did a little research on hip infections and the use of spacers.  “It’s really pretty interesting stuff,” she says.  I ask her to tell me more, and later she brings a few pages of computer printouts (http://www.totaljoints.info/TREAT_HIPINFECT.htm) and some color diagrams about the topic—easy to read articles and photos which fascinate me.

For me, all of this information is comforting. It helps me to read the following quote: “It is almost impossible to eradicate implant-associated infections without removing the foreign body (the total hip prosthesis).” (Garvin)  This tells me that the decisions that my medical teams made are based on sound protocol, and it gives me hope that the treatment will be effective. But the real point here is that for me, knowledge is power—the personal power to clearly define the problem and understand the issues associated with it. 

I’ve often been accused of being a bit of a rabble-rouser, and perhaps I am.  But I like to think of my position as being one of investigation and clarification: “You want to put a billboard on the highway advertising that the home-buying public should use a Realtor?  Why?  What kind of behavior from the public do you hope to obtain by having this display?  How will you measure its success?  How will you know if it is money NOT well spent?”  Questions from Marketing 101, of course….but the same questions apply to my current medical condition: “You want to take the hip joint hardware out you just put in and do WHAT?  Why will this help me walk again?  How will it make the site healthy enough for another implant?  How will you know when I am healthy enough?  How long will it take?  How will re-infection be prevented?”

When I was the manager of a staff, I continually asked for information.  I wanted people to tell me, to keep me informed.  “I hate surprises,” I said.  I didn’t want to second-guess anybody’s decision—I just wanted to know what it WAS.  As an airline frequent flyer, I am offended when the plane doesn’t fly and nobody will say why.  Hey!  If the right engine is in danger of falling off, let me KNOW.  I’ll respect your decision to stay on the ground, trust me….

And I feel that way now, as I lie here in the hospital bed on a dark cold night, waiting for the sheet corners to come lose (whap!) and wishing silence for the motor mouth that is practicing walking with his new knee in the corridor outside my door.  (The health of his knee seems directly related to the amount of talking he can do to the pretty aide as he clanks up and down the hall.)  The difference between Marty MotorMouth and me, I think, is that he wants the world to hear the important information about himself according to himself.  I, on the other hand, want to know the important information the world has to give me so that I may better understand the problem and accommodate myself to the solutions.


orchard creek report

After a day back at Orchard Creek, there’s much to report!

Some of my patient friends are still here. We had lunch together—Marian, Irene, Trudy, and Marian’s husband, who’s now a patient as well. It was fun catching up with them, finding out how they are progressing and what the latest scandals were. One of the big ones was the prime rib dinner—remember when I wrote about that two months ago? Well, the OC cook tried it again, and he messed up again. They had more steak knives but the moral of the story is: serve beef stew, our expectations are lower. When you list Prime Rib on the menu, people don’t want shoe leather and they can get very angry.

I went to physical therapy this morning—the PT Police were among the first people waiting to greet me. I was waving my Munson-issued exercise elastic as a peace offering, but still they got me. I worked out both upper and lower body, and found how frustrating it is to go backwards. The hip without a joint in it is particularly unforgiving. Seated, I can raise my right foot about two inches off the floor. Period. How demoralizing….

But the good news is, so many of those who are still here are so improved. In particular is a crusty guy named Al, whom Gertie’s blog readers met on November 29. At that time, Al would sit through a physical therapy session propping his head on one hand, and usually dressed in a hospital gown. But he’s been holding his card games for his long-time Leelanau County buddies since early December: they come to OC, have lunch, and play cards at least once a week. Now Al is dressed in flannel shirt and pants, and nice new slippers. When I left OC it was taking two physical therapists to get Al out of his wheelchair and standing at the metal grab bar, huffing and muttering under his breath. He was up to three minutes standing time.

Now Al comes into physical therapy in his walker! His head is up and he is greeting people. And most amazing of all is his rendering of the ball/balance exercise, which involves holding an 8” ball in both hands, raising it over your head, then to each side. Al decides this ludicrous movement needs a song and begins SINGING in time to his motions—sounds suspiciously like ‘La Chucharacha” to me, but who cares? Al was having fun…

I’d say that the change in many of these patients was just short of amazing: they had more self-esteem and it showed in their posture. They had physical strength and confidence that I wouldn’t have believed possible—real success stories!

Another thing that hasn’t changed is the sheets. I mean, they do change sheets here, but the problem is that the fitted cotton bottom sheets don’t stay on the corners of the plastic-covered mattress. It never fails—about half way into a sleep session I hear “Whap”! That means that the upper right corner of my bed sheet has dislodged and is sliding toward the middle of the bed. Seconds later, another “Whap” from the left corner. Now imagine me, lying with a tangle of sheet around my waist, sliding back and forth on a bright blue plastic mattress. This visit, of course, I can’t manage to re-hook the sheets, and it won’t do much good anyway: they’ll just come loose again. This could be dangerous: the plastic is really slick. Were it not that there is such a deep depression in the middle of the bed, I could slide right out! Maybe I’ll see if somebody can’t find one of the nice stretch jersey sheets they keep hidden around here.

What hasn’t changed, of course, are the people. Kashia, the activities director, and I met years ago over a Cirque du Soleil project she was working on with her elementary school students, When I got to my OC room I found the walls decorated with red valentines and blown-up photos of Cirque-like creatures. And Patty is still here, bringing me coffee at 5 AM and wearing a medical face mask as a hat…. After breakfast, I caught her singing in the halls.

I don’t know how long I will be here this time—certainly long enough to get stronger and more confident and able to do the daily chores. If I have to go through this recovery process yet again, OC sure is a good place in which to do it.