Here Comes the Judge!

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One of the things Quick Draw did before he left for Mexico was to sign my application to obtain a handicapped parking sticker. Particularly at the Munson Confusion Clinic finding a parking place is difficult: every spot is taken, except for a few of the handicap places near the door. So, since I visit there daily, I thought perhaps it would be a real benefit for whomever was driving me to be able to park close to the back entrance.

 

 

Now listen,” said Quick Draw most seriously as he handed me the form, “Don’t sell this to the highest bidder.”

 

 

Not even,” I ask, “if the proceeds help with my medical bills?”

****

 

 

Because today was cold, gloomy and rainy, Marty and I decided to take my priceless sheet of paper up to Suttons Bay to the Secretary of State so I could make application for the plastic tag.

 

 

Envision Suttons Bay: it’s a charming little village with a population of approximately 1800 residents. The town nestles cozily on the shore of the Lake Michigan bay named after lumber man Henry Sutton, who arrived in northern Michigan in 1854. Suttons Bay has one main street filled with sleepy, quaint shops and restaurants. One of the first establishments you pass at the city limits is a small office on your left, labeled “SOS” and adorned with the state seal and a window placard from Terri Lynn Land, Michigan Secretary of State, promising her sincere efforts to assist all of the citizens of Michigan with efficiency and effectiveness.

 

Don’t take that promise seriously. It was pouring rain and the wheelchair ramp was at the very end of the sidewalk. We parked next to it, lugged the wheelchair out of the car, and Marty pushed me through the cold downpour to the “SOS” office. The only problem was that on the door, right next to Terri’s promises, was a tiny notice that said, “Closed from 12:30 to 1:30. Of course the time was 1:15.

 

 

Rather than fold up the wheelchair and get back in the car, we went a few steps down the street to the 45th Parallel deli and coffee shop, fully intending to dry out, warm up, and enjoy a coffee. We did  that, and at a few minutes past 1:30 we headed back to the SOS. It was indeed now open and Stan, the single employee, was holding a neighborly conversation with a local lady who was renewing her drivers license and explaining how much fun her birthday party was—cake and beer and buffalo wings and everything.

 

When I wheeled myself up to the counter, Stan was still friendly and helpful, though he had a little difficulty correctly typing my license number into the computer, even if it was printed on the application right in front of him. Finally he took my actual license and laboriously sounded out each number. “Three, three. Eight, eight. Five, five.” Then “Oh, that’s a FIVE!” And he glared at me as punishment for my poor printing.

 

Eventually Stan handed me the red and white tag to hang from my rear view mirror, and we left the office, one more chore done. But no: stuck under the windshield wiper was a plastic bag (remember the rain?) and inside was a ticket for a $100 fine for—you guessed it—parking in a handicap slot.

 

Marty took the ticket and went back in to visit with Stan, since he seemed so congenial and helpful. She came back out shaking her head, and got in the car to share the following information:

  1. Stan himself had called the police when he found my car in the handicap slot (the time on the ticket was 1:40, just minutes before we walked in the door;

  2. Stan could not do anything to help us: the citation clearly said to pay the fine by mail, and check the little box if we wanted to appeal. The judge would set a court date.

 

Fine,” I snarled. “It’s not bloody likely that I am in any condition for a court appearance.”

 

Well,” Marty replied, “Let’s go talk to somebody while we are here and it’s fresh in our minds.”

 

That’s how we found ourselves in the snifty new county courthouse in the hills between Suttons Bay and the even smaller village of Lake Leelanau. It’s a beautiful building, large and very, very quiet on a sleepy Monday afternoon. On the second floor, way down a long and wide hallway, we found the 86th Judicial District Court, populated by one clerk clad in jeans and a sweater.

 

How can I help you?” she asked.

 

Well,” I said, “A funny thing happened on my way to the Secretary of State’s Office to get a handicapped sticker; I got a parking ticket for parking in a handicap parking space.”

 

She sighed deeply, and rolled her eyes heavenward.

 

I can’t help you,” she said. “Let me get someone who can.” She disappeared into the courtroom itself, and out came an elegant woman dressed in corporate black with handsome gold jewelry.

 

We were indeed face to face with the Magistrate of the Court. “Start from the beginning,” she said, And so I did, explaining about the time, the rain, the placement of the handicap access, and so on.

 

Well,” she said, “Of course you came face to face with the self-appointed Handicap Parking Police.” She continued, “Your citation is so fresh I don’t even have the original ticket, so I can’t do much. What I WILL do when it comes in is make sure you do not get fined. However, if I do that, I must give you a lesson on the legal use of your handicap tag.”

 

And so she did, ending with a question: “You didn’t park in the handicap zone in front of this building, did you?”

 

Oh,no, of course not,” Marty said.

 

We are fast learners,” I assured her.

 

Fast learners, handicap parking advocates–yes.  And I will be especially careful around the Suttons Bay Parking Nazi, I promised myself as Marty wheeled me out the door into the rain.

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Conversations

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See that sunrise?”

How can I not? It’s flamboyant, coming over the trees there, all red and orange.”

It’s wonderful—not a cloud in the sky. And it’s going to get up to 42 degrees today!”

Holy cow! Do you mean we’re gonna have sunshine and warmth at the same time? What a concept!”

Spring is finally here in Northern Michigan—I just know it!”

 

And that’s the first sign. Here’s the second:

 

Hi there, Gertie. How are you today?”

Just fine, thanks, Quick Dr….er, Doctor.”

Well, you know what? You ARE just fine! Your lab reports from yesterday are encouraging! They’re a really solid indication that you are making good progress at last. Here—I printed off this graph for you so you can see the trend in your progress! Even Bug Doc will be happy with these. I can’t give you a date yet for surgery, but as soon as I get back from vacation, we should be able to get really specific. I’ll see you in two weeks.”
(TWO weeks? Argh….)

Here’s the third:

 

Hi, Judith! It’s your old buddy Martha!”

Marty! How are you? What a wonderful surprise to year your voice!”

Well, I have a proposal for you. Since you didn’t go to Eleuthera this year, I couldn’t house sit your cabin in the Northern Michigan swamp…and I SO wanted to take a vacation from Wisconsin. How about if I come to visit? I could help you in whatever why you need, and take over getting you to the hospital so Jon and Lisa can have a break for a few days….”

Really? You’d just jump in your car and drive here? Just like that?”

Well, yes. But if you don’t want anyone around, you can say no. I really will understand…”

Oh no, no, no…it’s a perfect plan! We can reminisce about our Interlochen Arts Academy teaching days. And we can have good long ‘girl’ talks. And look at the old photos from our trip to Brittany. How soon can you get here?”

What day is this? Sunday? How about if I get there on Tuesday, early evening?”

And yet another (excerpted from an early Monday morning e-mail):

 

Hey, Gertie! It’s me, your old Los Angeles buddy, RT the Gurdy Guy. I wanted to tell you some news.

I suggested to our friend Neil that he devise a practice hurdy gurdy for me—maybe a small electronic one using a synthesizer, so you could play into headphones. He though it was a weird idea at first, but he built one for me. Then he built one for himself. Then he made a couple more for two other California players, and I know he’s just finished another one. These are great little instruments and the kicker is—you don’t have to CRANK! You can just practice the keyboard with your left hand and leave the cranking until you get that IV line out of your right arm! Here’s Neil’s contact info: maybe you could pick up that last one he just finished!”

 

Followed up the same day with an email from Neil in England:

Judith, your payment has arrived via Pay Pal. Send me your mailing address and I will get this instrument off to you tomorrow. Thanks for your business. I know you will enjoy being able to play again—five months is a very long time without your music. Neil”

And finally, yet another email:

Gertie:

Attached, a photo of our house in Eleuthera. You and I are now the owners of a wonderful two-story cottage overlooking the Caribbean. It has a roof, decks upstairs and down, and two walls of Hardie Board. The other two will be up by the end of the week, and Kervin the Builder promises that I’ll be able to in the house when I come back here in June.

We’ll have so much fun here: the view is spectacular, the breeze is wonderful. Hurry up and pull yourself together so you can get down here and paint the inside! You’re gonna love this place!”

 

Now,here‘s my message: Things are looking up!

 

I know this because of yesterday’s sunrise and beautiful day—winter is grinding slowly into spring. For the last two nights, Punkin the Cat has been growling and spitting at the raccoon visiting the deck in search of food. Of course the melee is in my temporary bedroom and is interrupting my sleep but whatever…

 

The doctors (both of them, Quick Draw and the Bug Doc) are pleased with my progress, and the hip surgery is in sight (maybe three or four weeks, but who’s counting?)

 

My good friend Martha is here. Yesterday she passed her wheelchair competency test, proving to my son that she really could push me up that wheelchair ramp outside my door. Last night we celebrated with a cheese fondue dinner; today we’re on our own, and we’ve scheduled a trip to the beauty salon.

 

My buddy RT, known as the Johnny Appleseed of the hurdy gurdy, has found a a solution to my music deprivation syndrome and my practice gurdy is on the way!

 

And my partner in the Bahamas cottage project has things under control—the roof is on and the walls are up and the place should be livable by June.

 

All these events which have happened so quickly are the product of waiting, waiting with hope and with a great deal of patience and trust in the future. Thank you, my friends, for waiting with me.

Counting Exercise

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At 24 weeks, if I were pregnant, the fetus would be as long as an ear of corn. I could embark on Paul Huddle’s 24-week program to train for an Ironman Triathlon. Perhaps more to the point, if I were 90 years old, 24 weeks of aerobic training would increase my strength by 15%.

And if I were Gertie Cranker, I’d be celebrating my 24-week anniversary of my first surgery for a hip replacement. It’s been 6 months since I visited a grocery store or went upstairs in my house! I’ve canceled 11 speaking engagements, resigned from one job, and have not seen my daughter’s new house, or my own getaway cottage in the Bahamas (now under roof and sided.)

I haven’t been to The Loading Dock on a Monday night to play Irish music, and I haven’t cranked my hurdy gurdy. That’s a lot of things that haven’t happened…

But what has happened is important, too. I’ve grown closer to my family as we’ve embarked on this ‘taking care of mom’ project. I’ve made many new friends, both at Munson and Orchard Creek. I’ve done a lot of thinking about my life and my values. I’ve enjoyed friends in ways I never have taken time to do. And I’ve learned a great deal about love and friendship.

So I’m not whining…but neither did I celebrate much on Wednesday. I went on my daily visit to the Munson Infusion Clinic early that morning. The nurses were bustling about, calling the pharmacy for the medications to be administered and locating supplies (“We just don’t have enough of that plastic tubing. How are we supposed to get through the day?”)Perhaps that’s why it’s called ‘the Confusion Clinic’ by some of us—but in all fairness, the job gets done, the coffee is good, and there’s some interesting conversations between those of us lined up in our tan faux-leather easy chairs with the sought-after plastic tubing leading from our arms to the meds we are receiving.

After that now-familiar activity of antibiotic infusion, I wheel-chaired it across the street to Dr. Spiers’ office—she’s the infectious disease specialist (“Bug Doctor”), you may recall. It will be her decision which will give the go-ahead for my next surgery, because right now the issue is about the infection more than it is about the hip. The Bug Doc is a lively, fun lady and one of the pluses of my 24 weeks. On our second meeting she said, “Judith, I really like you, and I’d like to be your friend when you are well. We could even go SHOPPING together!”

Of course I like her!

Bug Doc was most excited about my most recent lab results. “It’s the first real sign we’ve seen that you are getting better!” she said. My hopes rose, until she added, “Keep doing what you are doing and I’ll see you again in three weeks.”.

THREE WEEKS???

That makes it a total of 27 weeks since October 8, and Quick Draw the hip surgeon will still be on vacation in a warm place with lots of sunlight on the ocean. So let’s extend the time another week, making it 28 weeks since the initial surgery. 28 weeks later. That’s the name of Danny Boyle’s 2007 suspense film, “Twenty Eight Weeks Later.” Ironically, the film is about the re population of London after a disastrous infectious epidemic, and it’s filled with images of new life in the abandoned, ruined city. I guess that’s a parallel that needs to be taken to heart, because it WILL happen to me.

New life will come.

I know that’s true, and I can make  it….after all, I’ve managed 24 weeks, so what’s another month of waiting?

The Day After St. Patrick’s Day

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I spent some time yesterday thinking about why I hate to play Irish music on St. Patrick’s Day. I remember the revelers who fell into the band, the thick blue cigar smoke, the press of people trying to get to the bar. This year, the Traverse City Celtic group did not play in public on St. Patrick’s Day, though some of the musicians split up into small groups and played in less populated restaurants and bars. Most, however, went to a private party and played music only for themselves.

Sounded like fun I thought, but of course I missed it all. I did celebrate by watching the wonderful musical/film “Once”, and wearing my shamrock socks. The biggest treat though was when OC Patty stopped by in costume, which was a project she had shared with me in the mornings when she would come in my room to make my bed and bring me coffee.

Patty went to a great deal of effort to put this costume together, to the delight of the OC residents—she went to each room and talked with the resident and gave them some chocolate coins– “end of the rainbow”, don’t you know. Her thought is to make everyone happy, make them laugh. It was too much fun to see her in the orange wig she made from fabric, and her sequined, pointy shoes.

Mostly what I am doing now is waiting at home. I saw Dr. Quick Draw last Friday and his word was a Bushy-sounding “Stay the Course!” Tomorrow I see Dr. Spiers, who will give the eventual go-ahead for the surgery. I don’t expect much tomorrow, and of course after that Quick Draw heads for a vacation in Mexico, so I imagine I will continue to wheel around my house, groaning when I have to stand up, and visiting the ladies at the infusion clinic every morning. I see no rainbows yet—but thanks to Patty I have some gold-wrapped chocolate coins!

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From My Cabin in the Woods

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I was right! When I wake up in the middle of the night, I don’t hear OC laughter—only the snore of my Portuguese Water Dog, Twister. Twister is indeed a lady, so it’s rather shocking to hear the deep snorts and moans that emanate from the foot of my bed. Punkin the black cat is here too, so happy that I am home that she climbs up on my chest and settles in for the duration, her fluffy rear end parked directly alongside my nostrils. But neither can laugh out loud.

However, pets are healers, and I take great comfort from cold noses, doggy snores, and cat fur. We had a dog in residence (part time) at Orchard Creek. Her name was Pumpkin too, and she belonged to Ann, the 3 PM shift nurse. Pumpkin was very well behaved—she would seldom enter a patient’s room or the dining room, but we would hear her scampering up and down the hall chasing ice cubes. She used to steal our slippers, too, but Ann has broken her of that habit. Few things are more irritating to a 90 year-old sick person that seeing a small orange flash leaving your room with that warm, fuzzy slipper that your grandchildren gave you last Christmas!

I have my pets at home, and they lift my spirits. It’s very quiet here, compared to OC—nobody coming into my space every few hours to ‘take my vitals’ or hand me pills. But here I can eat dinner later than 5 PM, have balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing and wash my hair whenever I want. I have excitement each day, too: it is my morning trip to Munson, to the Infusion Clinic where I receive my mega antibiotics. Lisa the Magnificent has been taking me, for which I am grateful and, at the same time, feeling that sense of helplessness which I mentioned in the last blog. I can’t believe I passed up all those opportunities to play bingo and patronize the Ice Cream Parlor at Orchard Creek!

When I think of living this quiet life for another 2-4 weeks or more, I get depressed: this state of affairs has been going on since October 8! That’s the last time I was able to take a step without a walker, wheelchair, or cane. But then I think of my friends at OC—Anthony, who had his right leg removed and is learning new skills; and Luke, who will never have a hip joint; and the patients who have had strokes and are working to regain some dexterity and strength. I can’t stay depressed—I picture their smiles and recall their enthusiasm. And way down the hall, Bob is singing.

Come here, Twister—let me give you a hug.

 

Going Home, Part 2

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On Monday, I did it! I had three huge black garbage bags filled with sweats—tops and bottoms of all colors, the dress standard at OC. I also had a large stack of books, mostly unread, presents from visitors who are sure “I’d like this.” And thought, of course, that I had all day to lie around in bed reading. I also had Oreo cookies, home-made truffles, an origami set, and a watercolor pencil set that Roseann began to teach me how to use. Not to mention all the creams, cosmetics, and leftover medications.

The hard part was, of course, saying goodbye to the staff and the patients. Some of the patients will leave shortly, in a day or two. Those are the happy stories: folks who have painstakingly learned to do the smallest of self-care chores, like putting on shoes and socks, and brushing teeth . They are the ones who are cruising down the halls with canes or walkers, or perhaps no assistance at all. The happy stories. All day today I’ve thought of them, and I was delighted when Ed called me from his home this afternoon, just to touch base and assure me that his house was warm (he had needed a new furnace) and peanut butter sandwiches were ok as a meal—ah, bachelors! We talked about how difficult it is to depend on other people to do things for you–Ed’s son took the day off work to help install the furnace. And Lisa the Magnificent daughter-in-law not only took me home, dragged in the stuffed, heavy garbage bags, and did my grocery shopping: this morning she picked me up at 8:30 AM and carted me over to the medical center’s Infusion Clinic.

That trip to Munson Medical Center was a little long today—some confusion about who I was and why I was there, but I imagine we’ll have the kinks worked out in short order. It is hard, getting a wheelchair in and out of a car, and getting me down the wheelchair ramp at my house, which would give Evel Knievel an anxious moment. I came home in the late morning, tired out for the rest of the day!

And as Ed said, the real issue for us is depending on people—even those who love you and are happy to do things for you. For Ed, an untidy bachelor pad is a very private space and he doesn’t welcome guests, even his son. For me, it’s 30 years of doing for myself, and suddenly finding that I can’t just hop in my car and go somewhere, or wash my hair whenever it needs it. The drive for independence and self-sufficiency is strong at Orchard Creek—being there was a lesson for me as I watched the daily struggles as patients learned new skills and our caregivers coached us and treated us with dignity, no matter how miserably we failed. (“Do you need to take a rest, Evelyn? Ok, then sit down for a few moments and then we’ll do ten more.”)

Keep the spirit, I tell myself as I hobble around my house. Go slowly, ask for help, stay strong, follow directions. I do none of these things well, and I must learn that these are the instructions necessary for a healthy recovery.

Going Home

 

 

 

 

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Well, we’ve done it!  OC staff was hard at work, trying to find a way for me to go home.  After much research they discovered that my secondary health care provider will provide coverage for my antibiotic, as long as I go to the hospital daily and get my medication at the infusion clinic there.

 

Now finding a daily chauffer isn’t easy, especially one with the strength to help me in and out of my house, but I’ll find someone within a few days—I know it!  So tomorrow I am going home to spend the next three weeks (or more), making a daily trek to town, but being in my house with my dog, Twister, and my  fluffy black cat. 

 

That will be wonderful! I will watch the snow melt, and feed the birds and read.  I am beginning to feel like a fifth wheel here at OC: I can do almost everything for myself except wrap the Saran wrap around my upper arm before I shower.  But I will also be able to play music again—at least the penny whistle– and that will be a welcome addition.

 

Of course I will be sad to leave here.  But Roseann has gone, and Ed.  Only Irene the Second will remain.

She’ll have some good new company: Arthur, a former college professor with a beard and a charming smile; and John, a retired judge and banker  who lived fairly near Irene.  John recently had a total hip replacement and his recovery is going like THRs are supposed to go: he’s off pain meds and feeling very, very good. He and Irene spend a lot of time remembering Benzie County—Irene even remembers how and where John wrecked his Harley, 30 years ago. 

 

Before she left, Roseann gave me a watercolor painting lesson.  She’s a great teacher, heaping lots of praise on my efforts and only gently suggesting some modifications to my technique (“You know, dear, if you put the light colors down first, you will have more control over the darker ones.”)  I managed to produce a vase of zinnias in shades of rose and purple: everyone is highly complimentary, and I am hooked!  There is life after computers!

 

John remarked at lunch today that he was a little leery of coming to ‘a place like this’, but in two days he has come to find it quite enjoyable, and he’s happy to be here.  I suggest that one of the reasons I started a blog was to create a more fair understanding of what facilities like this one are, and also to explore my own feelings about healthy recovery and survival.

 

I will miss OC.  Patty just stopped by to say goodbye, and we both cried a little.  But one of the reasons I am leaving now is so I will have enough Medicare days left that I can spend a couple of weeks here after my next surgery.  Orchard Creek is indeed a healthy, healing place.