Home Again, Home Again

Yesterday was indeed a memorable Memorial Day—Jonathan picked me up at 10:30 AM and brought me 3 miles down the road to my very own house! It was, of course, a bitter-sweet departure—I loved being with Roseann, Barbara, and Helen, my table mates. It was almost like a ladies sleep-over, somehow: we all had become quite chummy and visited each other between meals, and introduced each other to our families. Sad to leave my new friends.

The other exciting event that filled my last few days almost to the point of compulsion, was that Roseann and I began watercolor painting together. Roseann is an excellent teacher, and I so enjoyed working with her. She would set up a palette of colors and show me how to use them—I would paint happily away, and bring her the results. She was always positive about what I was doing, and made some wonderful suggestions about techniques. When I left OC, I left some paintings for the staff, and made several others as gifts for people who had been so kind to me. The fish is one of the ones I like the most—

People brought me going away presents: Angela baked banana bread, Patty gave me generous hugs, and the daughter of one of the residents brought me a huge bouquet of lilacs, my favorite flower.

I go see Quick Draw tomorrow, which should be my last visit for a while. I would like to use a cane, and figure out when I can drive, at least short distances. My Pal Kal (a nurse at Munson who also does physical therapy) will be coming to my house twice a week, beginning tomorrow, and hopefully I can also arrange for some pool therapy at OC.

So yes, I have plans…and a lot of healing to do. But I am determined and well on the road to recovery. I am going to keep blogging, too—there are so many things I’ve learned from the last 8 months, and so many new experiences to share. I do hope you’ll check back, or sign up for the RSS feed for Gertie’s blog.

One last thing I wanted to mention: The Pie throwing contest! OC’s wonderful events person, my friend Kashia, organized a pie throw to raise money for Relay for Life, a cancer fundraiser. It was the STAFF who got pie-d, and as the picture shows, it was fun for all. That guy in the shower curtain with the cute legs is the Administrator, and he probably got the most splats of anybody. I don’t know how much money they raised, but it was fun for all.


The Orchard Creek Derby

Ready for the race.  The floozy is second from left

I have to tell you, I never thought I’d experience the following event—at age 67 or at ANY age! And it’s all Roseann’s fault: my “friend” snookered me into this….

It all started when Kasha, our OC dynamo social director, came to our breakfast table last Friday and said, “I am looking for some jockeys for our horse race.” Without a moment’s hesitation, Roseann said, “JUDITH has always wanted to be a jockey. She’ll do it!”

Bad Roseann! What she didn’t know is that as a 5th grader, in the heights of my horse craze, I DID want to be a jockey. Of course, with my passion for ponies, I would have happily settled for being a stable person. I used to play these mind games with myself: if I were a jockey, what would make me the BEST jockey in the world? I was undaunted by the idea that I might have to eat two cornflakes a day, and – harder yet – find myself a real, live horse to ride. I slid away into my dreams, complete with a stunning horse proudly decorated with a horseshoe wreath of red roses, and I looking skinny and unimpressed by the cheers of an adoring crowd, dressed in crimson and white silks.

That daydream disappeared a year or so later, to be followed by the Florence Nightingale dream, the tightrope walker fantasy, and finally the Peggy Lee syndrome. Again, no matter that I wasn’t real keen on the sight of blood, that I was deathly afraid of the second rung of a stepladder, can’t sing and carry a tune, and that I never was skinny in my entire life…

So here was Roseann, offering me a chance to fulfill a childhood dream, and unthinkingly, I said, “Sure. I will be a jockey!”

“Great”, said Kasha. “We have four steeds and you will be riding this reddish-brown one. The others were all taken—Big Brown, Hari Kari, and White Lightening. She held them up—hobby horses on broom sticks with decorated stuffed heads. I immediately disliked White Lightening: she reminded me of my old playmate Connie Wilson whom I threw into the watercress pond. White Lightening was pure white, with long dark eyelashes and pouty red lips. Worst of all, she had a pink satin horn between her ears—a unicorn masquerading as a race horse. Fah!

Kasha also informed us that attendees were to wear fancy hats, and mint juleps would be served, along with tiny cheesecake squares. Everyone would be issued to paper Bingo dollars so they could place bets, and redeem their winnings at the OC ice cream parlor.

Well, by now I am into this! I scurried back to my room, and researched paper hat construction on the Internet. I took the front page from our local paper, The Leelanau Surprise, and followed the directions exactly. I added the pen with the flower on it that I received as a Mothers Day Present from OC. Viola! A hat for the party.

Here’s me in the hat:

Here are some of the others in their hats.

Jockeys were given a special derby to wear, but rebel that I am I preferred my own concoction.

OC Derby Jockeys

People arrived, placed bets with our facility manager, and found chairs on the patio, where there is sun and shade, so everyone could be pleased. The essence of the show was that each jockey threw a single large plush die, and her horse was moved the number of spaces showing on the top of the thrown die.

The horses, ready to go

Kasha led the applause—we clapped and whistled for losers, winners, and those that just needed cheering up. And in about fifteen minutes, the race was over—down to the end of the walkway and back, with enthusiastic cheering all the way.

Of course that floozy White Lightening won (but only because of her good looks). The rest of us (all three) placed second. The bets were paid off, and we adjourned to mint juleps (really good, though boozeless—Mint and sugar syrup mixed with Seven Up) and small cheesecakes of various flavors in little fluted cups. Then we took our ill gotten gains, marched to the Ice Cream Parlor, and traded bingo dollars for ice cream.

So my childhood dream comes true, I guess, in a whimsical and surprising setting. I lost the race to the glitzy tart of a unicorn—but there was no real skill involved, no real competition, just the gentle laughter of some friends sitting in the sun, enjoying the ridiculous and the sublime.

Gussied Up--that\'s Roseann in the hat made of her socks



old woman that I am

I must

lower the foot of my bed,

swing my legs over the edge

and push my self up

on my elbows.

It is tough, this getting up,

and I am creaky from sleeping without moving

all night.

Sitting now, I await the pain

that is always there, for years gnawing

at my hip, my back like a hungry rat

feasting on my flesh and energy.

But today, May 19, is a surprise:

for the first time in recent memory

my companion doesn’t appear:

he has taken his sharp teeth and gone

somewhere else

for breakfast.

Technology Woes, Good Service from Verizon

No, my friends, I haven’t had another setback–but I can see why you think I might have had: I have such a bad rep when it comes to ‘smooth sailing’! My latest interruption was not physical but technological–my wireless modem died. I mean, really died! When it’s connecting, its little green light blinks fast and steadily. But on Friday it slowed down to a lethargic blink every five seconds or so. Then, like a EKG monitor, it evened out to a steady green, a flat line of dysfunction.

Of course I called Verizon. Verizon Vern and I spent a chummy hour on the phone, running diagnostics. Vern spoke American English, had my correct data on his computer screen, and knew the exact tests for me to run to determine the nature of the problem. At the end, he said, “Well, Judith, it’s definately the modem. And yours is under warranty. I will put a new one in the mail.”

“When, oh when, will it get here?

“Well, I can’t get in in the mail until Monday; I will FedEx it, and it should be there on Wednesday.”


Of course, what we both failed to think about was that FedEx would want a signature, a hard thing to come by at my house. So here it is, Thursday. I have almost a thousand emails waiting and I will get to then, a little bit at a time. But first–Ginnie, Ron, and the rest of you: I am ok! My modem is OK, too. And I am scheduled to go home on May 26!!!

The Difficult Ones

My stay here at Orchard Creek (it’s my third visit here) is a little different than earlier ones: it’s characterized by some difficult and high maintenance patients. It’s been interesting to me to evaluate my personal reaction to these folks and how I have changed my attitude over the last two weeks.

At first, I was highly irritated by these high maintenance folks. Mary, for instance, is a real cranky character. Generally during the day she is quite reasonable and well spoken, quite polite and educated. She looks at you with bright, birdly eyes, greets you, and genuinely seems interested in what you have to say. But as the sun goes down, Mary becomes a totally different person—angry, restless, disoriented. She begins yelling for her son John (“John! JOHNNY! Where ARE you?) She seems to have no clue that Johnny ate dinner with her and left soon afterwards: he should be here now! When the shouting doesn’t work, Jean touches off the gizmo on her wheelchair which emits an ear-damaging shriek to indicate to the staff that someone who should not be getting out of a wheelchair is in fact doing so.

She repeats this performance at regular intervals throughout the night, much to the irritation of the rest of us trying to sleep—it’s then that I envy the majority of the residents who simply sigh and remove their hearing aids. In the morning, Mary remembers none of this and dozes peacefully in her wheelchair throughout her physical therapy session. Unfortunately, the rest of us are dozing too, having had little more sleep than she has.

My next door neighbor doesn’t hear the Mary-induced ruckus across the hall : Katherine is deaf as a wood block. She’s 98, sharp witted and quiet—except when it’s her bathroom time. She doesn’t remember how to ring the bell to call for assistance, and I hear her quiet voice whispering plaintively, “Would somebody help me? Please help me.” At first I thought that Katherine was in dire straits, perhaps having fallen out of bed or something. Then one day I heard her say, urgently, “I have to go to the bathroom. Please help me, somebody.” I punched MY call button, and then I heard her say, “ohhhhh. Too late.” So even though I know now what Katherine’s calls are always for, it still un-nerves me to hear the quavery little voice calling out, “Help, please, somebody.”

At 98, Katherine is a far cry from Lola, who is 92. In Lola’s mind, being 92 is license to whine, complain, get to her table for dinner and then refuse to stay, and say to the PT ladies, “I am NOT doing that. It hurts. Take me to my room. Now!” No matter where Lola is in this facility, people within ten feet of her go scurrying away. Lola is very angry at me because I get to sit in my wheelchair at dinner (because I can’t sit in a regular chair for very long) and SHE doesn’t. I say things to her like, “No body ever said the world was fair,” and she sniffs disdainfully and turns her face from me. In the PT (Progressive Torture) room she complimented me on the fact that I can do side legs raises. “I can’t do that,” she says. “I am too old and it hurts too much. I will never be able to do that. In fact, I don’t feel well at all. Nurse! Take me to my room!” “No pain, no gain,” I mutter audibly as she wheels herself to the elevator (it’s hard to make a dramatic exit in a wheel chair).

And lastly, I need to mention Howard. I don’t know Howard’s age, though HE would probably tell me he’s 35, if I asked him. Obviously he’s more than double that age—just not in his own mind. Howard is former military, and in PT his favorite exercise is marching (with weights on his ankles). Under his breath Howard sings cadences, usually quite rowdy. His choice of language is also a throwback to his army days, I suspect, and he can go from being smiling and cheerful into being a treacherous snake-in-the-grass in just an instant, with no forewarning. He lies with cheerful good humor though: “My wife dropped me off here several weeks ago and I haven’t seen her since.” (Wonder who he thinks we see entering his room every other day or so?)

Here’s what I have learned from Mary, Katherine, Lola and Howard:

  1. Find something to do to fill your quiet hours and don’t be afraid of the dark.

  2. Abide by the signals when you need help: If you’re supposed to press the button to call for help, train yourself to press the button.

  3. People don’t hear you when you whisper plaintively, “Help me please. Someone. Please.” Press your button if that’s the protocol.

  4. People won’t hear you when you demand attention every 15 or 20 minutes, either. Shouting “Nurse. Come Here. I need you NOW!” causes the nurses to suddenly become very busy.

  5. Don’t lie to get sympathy. People know there are women are coming into your room at night.

I’ll post this when I get a new modem. Until then, you just have to take it on faith that I am alive, well, and still learning new lessons.

Coloring Books

My friend Roseann is back at Orchard Creek—you may remember she’s the one who got me addicted to ‘trash’ magazines where I read about Britney’s bipolar disorder, Madonna’s sex life, and George Clooney’s inability to maintain a relationship. Geese! I don’t even CARE about these people and I deplore most of their ‘artistic’ endeavors—but I love to window-peek on their trivial little lives!

I’ve developed other addictions at Orchard Creek: one is my daily visit to the Ice Cream Parlor at 2 PM in the afternoon. Before you say it—I’ve lost about 20 pounds during this whole ordeal, and one of the secrets is the unavailability of food except at regular times, the daily Ice Cream Parlor being one. Bring on the black cherry in the waffle cone!

And the other addiction is adult coloring books. Not the nudes splashing at the beach type, but the intricate shapes in books of Celtic patterns, Oriental design, Italian tile, and so on. Bethany the Physical Therapist brought this coloring project to OC to divert my attention while I am standing and practicing balance—the theory is that if I am busy with some other project, I won’t realize how long I’ve been balancing on one leg.

Bethany purchased an Oriental Design book, complete with fiery dragons and cherry blossoms, and 50 colored marking pens in lovely colors. Well, that did it. I wheedled the stuff out of the therapy department for the weekend and colored for hours. Then, when I went home, I ordered my own markers and gel pens, and went to Amazon dot com and typed in “Coloring books Adult” and got 25-30 wonderful matches. All the time I was at home, I kept a table close by with the ‘art’ supplies on it, and if I had even just a few moments, I’d color a little more of a design.

As I color, my mind poses some questions for me: why do I like doing this? What’s the source of pleasure? Can I do anything with the finished product, or is it just a transient experience?

There are a few answers. One of the things I keep remembering was my childhood playmate, Connie Wilson, and how much I HATED to color with her. Connie was a perfect color-er, and was ALWAYS between the lines. She delighted in pointing out my mistakes, and we would fight over them—if she made a mistake, it was artistic license, and if I made one it was sheer incompetence. I was very competitive with her, because she was so perfect and tiny and smart. I even threw her in the watercress pond because she told me how well she could swim. The only problem with my plan to hold her to the truth was that she and I were dressed in wool coats and leggings which even Weissmuller would have a hard time managing…. but as she was floundering around, she taunted, “See! I am swimming!”

So now, the coloring compliments mean much to me: “Oh, how minute! How intricate! How painstaking!” Normally, I wouldn’t care if people thought me minute, intricate, or painstaking. These are not attributes I cherish. But thanks to Connie Wilson, now I do, I do.

I also enjoy solving the puzzle of a detailed, black and white design. As I ad the colors, the design appears and takes on life. Of course when I make a mistake, like a wrong color which spoils everything, it’s really torture to finish it, but I do, thinking all the time: “Peach was a dumb color to use as background. Why didn’t I select orange?” So yes, there is a learning experience here, and an identification of successful and unsuccessful choices.

But most of all, I enjoy the simple mindlessness of the task. The design has been completed for me, and many cases I am familiar enough with the traditional colors (I have a great book that uses designs from the Irish Book of Kells), or I can do a little studying of the history of the designs and try to remain true to the genre. But as I color I am thinking about the personal issues lurking in the back of my mind, and I find myself discovering solutions that a relaxed intelligence can create.

If you come to Orchard Creek, my room is the one of 24 that has a doorway with a permanent art exhibit. I just finished a tessellation of lions, and there are Persian tile designs, Celtic illuminations, Chinese dragons, and stained glass patterns. I often hear people outside my door as they visit my gallery, and many, many folks say things like “Wow. Coloring! I used to love to color.” And I think, “Well, you didn’t know Connie Wilson, so coloring will be even more fun for you because you don’t have a ghost from your past which keeps whispering, “You moron! You’ve gone outside the lines again!” Just pick up a set of colored markers and an ‘adult’ coloring book at Michaels, or Amazon dot com, and go for it. Even morons can have fun….

Extreme Uphill Sport

“Hey, Larry,” I call from my room to the tall guy striding past my open door. “Larry! It’s me, Judith! I’m baaaack…..”

“Oh, Judith! Welcome!” He stops and turns, white jacket and hairnet a blur of energy, ‘Orchard Creek Chef’ clearly emblazoned over his pocket.

“Not everybody will stop you at 6 AM to tell you about the great green beans yesterday—but they were a treasure.”

“Oh, the fresh ones with the butter and garlic salt?”

“Yep! Some people enjoy the swiss steak, but it’s the green beans that ring my chimes!”

Well, it IS the small things that please me, I guess. Fresh green beans. The chocolate-raspberry bar Ed brought yesterday. The raspberry milkshake from Lisa and the promise of opening week of Bardon’s Wonder Freeze. A fresh page in my new coloring book, “Decorative Tile Designs” (I list that item just so you know all my pleasures are not food-related….)

And yes, I am baaack at Orchard Creek, following surgery to (once again) try for a total hip replacement (THR, as we hip people say). Yes, it’s the same surgery I had on October 8 of 2007, and I vow to get it right this time! I will not do wheelies in my walker and break my leg. I will rest lots and keep up my strength and do physical therapy as prescribed. I will err on the side of caution when I make decisions. I will visualize a healthy, strong Gertie Cranker once again doing speaking engagements, leading strategic planning sessions, walking the Tarpum Bay beach, and playing music with friends. And no, these are not chocolate-induced fantasies….

Quick Draw did a magnificent job with the surgery, I think. One nurse told me that the surgery report was quite a melodrama to read, all that sawing and pounding. The surgery took QD a couple of hours longer than he had anticipated, but he seems satisfied that he’s met his surgical goals. Best yet, so far there’s no sign of infection of any kind (knock, knock). And the IV line is out after all those months, so Gertie can crank again!

Obviously, I am back at Orchard Creek. There’s a whole new crop of residents here—and a couple of returnees. I have my old room back, the one across from the dining room, so I can watch the pre and post mealtime wheel chair races, which sometimes make the Kentucky Derby look tame. All those seniors, hell-bent for jello, edging each other out at the dining hall doorway….. This bunch seems a little more street-savvy, too—they come down to meals early and help themselves to coffee before anyone can serve them.

So, I have a couple of weeks ahead of me here: I can get a jump on fitness and a good diet (yay! Fresh green beans!), and finish the mountain of insurance paperwork. Obviously, I am optimistic and energetic—and the sun is shining, too. It’s uphill from here.