Gertie — with a little help from her friends!

Well, how are you feeling this morning?” asked Quick Draw, bouncing on his toes by the side of my bed (Did I mention that QD has some kind of metabolism that fills a room with energy, even at 6:30 AM?)

“Do you remember our conversation last night?” he continues.

“Not exactly,” I said. I had called his office the day before and ask for some kind of medication to relieve my anxiety (chamomile tea just wasn’t doing it.) I took one of those tiny little pills before bed, and Lisa had to wake me up to get me to the hospital. I took another one before leaving the house at 5:30 AM and I was really feeling no pain or anxiety all day yesterday!

“Tell me whatever you told me yesterday, because I don’t remember anything you said.” And so it went: some unexpected events with the replacement, but no sign of infection—which is what I feared the most. We’ll know the results of the blood cultures in a few days, but right now I feel much better than I have following each of the preceding surgeries, and I am much stronger and mobile, too—thanks to all the right diet and exercise I’ve been practicing.

So I think this is good! Thanks to all of you who have sent messages, and whom I know are with me in spirit. And thanks to Quick Draw and staff, the Bug Docs, and all the rest of you who have helped in so many ways…

I know it all isn’t over yet, but it sure is a time to pause and be grateful.

Milestone

Another milestone! Today was the last of my daily visits to the medical center Infusion Clinic. Now you may have noticed that I laughingly referred to this place as the “Confusion Clinic”–but it’s far from that. If anything, the Confusion Clinic is just the opposite, and it’s yet another pocket of really caring, competent people making life better for the rest of us.

At Munson, the Infusion Clinic is a separate facility where people are given (you guessed it!) infusions. The interesting part is why patients are there. Some, like me, are being given treatments of antibiotics. Some are receiving chemotherapy. Still others need a quick blood transfusion without spending the night at the hospital.

And then there are the children. Once a month on Fridays parents and children flock to the clinic for therapy, a partnering program with DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids. That’s why, when you enter the Clinic, the first thing you see are boxes of toys and children’s books. There’s a a large, blue-feathered dream catcher in the corner, fluttering with every draft of unseen air. There’s a huge TV, an unfinished jigsaw puzzle on the table, and a table of magazines and books.

In the waiting room, patients are knitting, reading, checking materials in their briefcases, and watching Regis and Whoeverhisnewpartner is. A few sit staring dully at nothing. And if it’s a Children’s Friday, the activity level (and noise level) is pretty high.

Behind the Waiting Room doors is the facility itself, which consists of a dozen lounge chairs, many positioned so that the occupant can look out the window to green grass and (at last!) fat robins and budding leaves. There’s coffee, juice, cold sodas and—at lunch time—boxed meals for those who must spend the day at the facility.

Because, you see, Infusion Clinics are serious business. I saw one of my former staff members here on Friday, looking bemusedly at all the children who were giggling and calling out to one another, even after they got tethered to the pump which delivered their important medications. Bill comes to the Clinic monthly to receive his chemotherapy, and the process takes him the whole day. He comes in with his laptop computer, several books, and his Ipod and headphones. It’s a day when he can catch up on work and be virtually inaccessible and relaxed.

I’ve been going to the clinic 7 days a week, usually the first thing in the morning (at 8 AM) for over 4 weeks now. I’ve really come to appreciate the service it provides, and even more—the staff. All through the last 6 months, I have discovered little pockets of committed caregivers, people who work in hospitals, nursing homes, physical therapy, and pharmacies. It’s a side of humanity I have come to appreciate, even cherish. In Eleuthera, they do what is called ‘pocket farming.’ On an island which is basically coral reef, there are little ‘pockets’ where soil and rainwater collect, and the enterprising islanders use these depressions to plant crops and fruit trees. Of course it may be inefficient farming as we Americans know it, but it is a way of producing much-needed food in these fertile and sheltered places.

So it is with the Infusion Clinic: in a hospital complex which is, by definition, pristine and sterile, there is this little oasis of warmth and comfort and friendly clutter. Today was my last day there: I go to surgery tomorrow (Tuesday, April 29) and my time on antibiotics will be limited. I will miss the Ladies of Confusion.

Weather Report

It’s been beautiful weather here in Northern Michigan—60’s, sunny, and tonight a light rain. NOW I remember why I live here…..

I don’t have much to add to the blog tonight, other than to say that I met with Quick Draw this morning, and we had a long conversation. Seems as how some of my lab reports aren’t quite up to snuff and the question becomes, what do we gain by waiting? Have we seen all the improvement there is going to be? Maybe those numbers are ‘normal’ for me now.

We tossed everything into the pot: Jon and Lisa were there too, and it was good to have a clear understanding of the alternatives, with everyone present and taking the time to have all the questions answered. Of course this is not the first time I’ve been faced with a difficult decision relating to my health: up to now, I thought one of the toughest times was trying to decide what treatment option to select for my breast cancer. And before that it was the decisions I had to make about my lifestyle when it came to cigarettes and alcohol.

None of these was easy; neither have I regretted any of the choices I have made. I trust that will be the same in this case—so today after parting from QD I ordered a few mystery novels and packed my overnight bag (including the chocolate!). I am ready for the first opening in the surgery schedule, and I won’t need more than 15 minutes notice!

Frangos and Stem Cells

In the age of technology, there are lots of ways to find support for those of us who need it. There are always the strengths coming from friends and family, caregivers, clergy, and therapists. Fortunately, I have these resources in great abundance—almost more than I could have imagined, and certainly more than I can comprehend on some days, even now. Last week when I came home from my daily trek to the Confusion Clinic, there was a box of Frango dark chocolates lying on my couch along with a note. I didn’t even notice the surprise for almost an hour—I even moved the box so I had room to sit. Then it occurred to me: I certainly hadn’t purchased Frangos for myself—a Hershey’s Kiss is about the limit of my self indulgence.

Sure enough, the box was from my old friend GB, who had stopped by while I was out. “Enjoy,” he wrote. And I did, marveling at his thoughtfulness and my own lack of discernment–”A box of chocolates? For ME? How come?”

I am learning, however slowly, to ask for support, or go out and find it when I need to. For me, one of my techy solutions are on line support groups—I first found them ten or more years ago, when I went to an on line AA meeting because I really needed to find help quickly. On line support was an innovation then, but a satisfying solution to my immediate crisis, whatever that was at the time.

Today I just Googled “on line support groups” and came up with 29 million responses, many of which were health related. In my own current example, I have been subscribing to a Total Hip Replacement email list called “Totally Hip”. I enjoy the group discussions on techniques and hip replacement issues from around the world—there’s no better way to get over the feeling that you are alone in the problems you face.

Last night there was an interesting posting on Totally Hip from a group member who had watched the ABC Nightline (click here to go to the video) show on a new bone surgery technique that involves orthopedic stem cell surgery. The stem cell surgery involves drawing the patient’s own stem cells from his bone marrow, and then using the cells to create new bone growth–in the video example, a hip repair for someone who had had 7 surgeries all ready (sound familiar?)

ABC calls this technique “controversial” and underfunded research because it is so often confused with embryonic stem cell research, and subsequently bogged down in right-to-life issues. In fact, no embryonic stem cells are used in the ABC surgery report: the patient’s own cells create new bone growth.

Now I have long been interested in the area of stem cell research…ever since the Michigan Citizens for Stem Cell Research and Cures presented its persuasive arguments at a local Chamber of Commerce Meeting. At that point in time, the stem cell subject was not particularly relevant to my life, I thought, and was merely an exercise in logic—if we have a chance of curing Alzheimer’s, or juvenile diabetes, or Lou Gehrig’s disease—what’s the issue? Of course there are arguments about cloning and killing unborn babies—arguments which do not pertain to the use of stem cells in the medical research cases I am talking about.

But now, along comes a technique which repairs bone damage by growing new bones. It can also repair articular cartilage, and heal ligaments and tendons. I think, from the vantage place of my wheelchair, that we need to pull out the stops in researching the potential of stem cell technology. It’s an even more important imperative to those of us in Michigan, where our state laws are repressive and discouraging to research initiatives. The Detroit Free Press reports:
“The Stem Cell Ballot Question Committee in Michigan wants to authorize the use of
excess or unsuitable embryos from fertility clinics that “would otherwise be discarded unless they are used for research.” In contrast to legislation aimed at opening up research on stem cells, the ballot proposal affirms Michigan’s law prohibiting human cloning.”

Well, we’ve got to support this ballot initiative issue in our state—not only to explore new cures, but also to keep our research facilities in Michigan (and attract new business). According to the Michigan Citizens for Stem Cell Research and Cures (MCSCRC),
“Michigan’s current laws on stem cell research are considered within the scientific community to be more restrictive than federal laws and policies enacted by many other states. The Houston Chronicle described Michigan in 2005 as one of five states with the most severe laws and called Michigan a “non-player” in the world of stem cell research.”

You can help by going to the Ballot Question Committee website at www.CureMichigan.com<a and request a petition which you can sign and circulate, supporting placement of this measure on the ballot in November.

Even I can do that from a wheelchair.

Impatience

Morning
washed with clear sky:
blue, shadowless,
crisp on a new day:

By my window
I watch it coming–
stealth sharpening trees fingers
calling out the edge of things

I float through glass,
Escape into fat hours
which carry me
like fleshy promises
into the lies of the morning,
satiety of the afternoon,
the dull completeness of night.

I abandon chair, window,
My place at the edge
of this exact moment,
seduced into the day’s dreams
which shimmer like fool’s gold,
as fraudulent as tomorrow.

I wrote this poem this morning as I sipped my coffee and waited for the day to begin. “Yesterday was MONDAY,” I thought, “That’s three days after Quick Draw was supposed to call me, and didn’t.”

As I imagined it, Jon would take me to the Confusion Clinic and the nurse would say, “Oh, the doctors have canceled your infusion. They want us to take out the picc line now so you are ready for surgery.” And then I would come home, and there would be a message: “Stop taking the blood thinners—your surgery is scheduled for Monday.”

I would spend the rest of the week packing, finishing some work assignments, writing to people and sending emails, finishing up some insurance paperwork….

And suddenly, it was Tuesday afternoon and, finally, the phone rang. “Nope,” said QD. “I am just not happy with these lab results quite yet. You’re almost there, but not quite. Let’s give it another week—I will see you next Tuesday, and we’ll talk.”

Where I need to stay: in “My place at the edge of this exact moment.” No messing around with the daydreams, Gertie….

The Culmer House

Last year, as I mentioned earlier, a friend and I bought some property in the Bahamas, on an out-island named Eleuthera. I was so looking forward to spending much of my first retirement winter in Eleuthera, and of course, that didn’t come to pass. But my friend Lynn returned from there this week, and brought me photos of our project and the work that was done in the past six weeks or so. This is my dream: that later this year, I will be able to visit our house, The Culmer House, in the village of Tarpum Bay.

I’ll add a little to this blog later about the incredible history of this place, but I wanted to share the photos with you.

The dream is a reality!

The Culmer House

You are invited to view GertieCranker’s photo album: House Building in Eleuthera
House Building in Eleuthera
Eleuthera, Bahamas –
Apr 11, 2008
by GertieCranker
Lynn supervises the construction on Lynn and Judith’s Bahamas Retreat in the village of Tarpum Bay.
If you are having problems viewing this, copy and paste the following into your browser:
http://picasaweb.google.com/GertieCranker/HouseBuildingInEleuthera

Looking at Lori

There’s an article in today’s Traverse City Record Eagle and it’s about a woman I know, Lori Steel, a Northern Michigan free lance writer. I met Lori through several articles she’s written where she contacted me as a resource, usually about real estate issues. She and I also have friends in common, as you do in a small town, and one of them suggested that I read Lori’s blog, “7th & Pine”. I did that, and immediately included her blog site on my blog roll—if you look to your right on this page, it’s the first item.

What I learned from today’s Record Eagle is that Lori’s friends are sponsoring a fund raising benefit for her this weekend. They are doing it because not only is Lori a warm, caring person well loved in our community, but also because her plight illustrates the fear of any independent contractor that it is a an uncertain future when you are a freelance writer, a painter, a musician, a commissioned salesperson.

In Lori’s case, she began to notice symptoms of weakening ankles and legs last summer. She sought medical help in September, and as yet (it’s April!), she has no definitive diagnosis. At this point her movements are limited, she needs assistance to “move from thing to thing”, as she puts it.

And she still doesn’t have a clear diagnosis: perhaps its ALS. Perhaps it’s Lyme disease. Perhaps….who knows?

To quote the Record Eagle, “Steele has been unable to work as a freelance writer since the middle of March. Adding both stress and financial anguish, her insurance company has denied all coverage due to a pre-existing condition.

“After months of paying for tests and treatment out of pocket with no definitive diagnosis in sight, Steele’s financial resources have been tapped out. Doctors in both Traverse City and at the University of Michigan search for a cause while Steele struggles to stay afloat, emotionally, professionally and financially.”

Click on Gertie’s blog roll link to “7th and Pine”, and read Lori’s blog. It’s a beautifully written story of her love of her son, of hope, and optimism. I read it this morning, and as I write this, I am thinking of today’s diagnosis from MY bug doc: “You look great,” he said. “You’re good to go, as far as I am concerned.” Today Bug Doc is calling Quick Draw, and they’ll make some decisions by Friday, I hope, when I go to visit the Super Surgeon.

Good news for me! But I feel Lori’s tragedy most acutely. In her blog she describes a conversation with her son:
At breakfast:

“Mom, when was love invented?”

“Probably when people were invented.”

He mulls this for a second.

“I think maybe love was invented when Jesus and Crisis were born.”

The fund raiser is open to the public and will be held on Saturday, April 12, at 7 pm. in the Mercato located at Building 50 in Traverse City. To donate items for the fund raiser or money directly to Steele, contact Kris Hains at (231) 421-1249 or e-mail krishains@aol.com.