September 30, 2015

Revisiting an old flame, Time

While I waited for an appointment, I leafed through a current copy of Time magazine with Pope Francis on the cover. In the past, Time captured snippets of art, politics, medicine, education, business, history, science -- so many thoughts that enriched the seedbed of knowledge. A long time ago, Time published a letter to the editor that I wrote. While my child was at kindergarten, a taxi from a neighboring city delivered a telegram with that news. To my little house. In a tiny Midwestern town. High times indeed. 

Then one day, when my beloved Time arrived on Tuesday in its iconic brown wrapper, it was different. No articles or photographs connected to any reality that I wanted to be part of, at all. Who were these people and what had they done to MY Time? Where was Lance Morrow's essay? Why didn't my magazine seem as weighty, thick with copy and photos that bleed off the page like margins couldn't contain them? Strangers had invaded my Time and re-crafted it to woo another reader. My Time had dumped me. 

It was a harsh lesson to learn: just because Time fed my quest to know more, my delight came with no guarantee that I was indeed "their perfect reader." I felt the editors had sold out and put me curbside too. Where did Time's wondrous "momentary stay against confusion" (Frost) go like a first love? It was a sad day. 

My two boxes of Time that I moved up, down and around America with me (before Internet and "breaking news") no longer held distinctive memories of clean, clear and concise prose. Like pink petals pressed in a yellowed encyclopedia, they merely reminded me that my love affair with Time had gone wrong, horribly wrong. I burned them in the fireplace like mementos of an old romance. Time was passe. 

Oh, I flirted with CNN, Fox News, et al, and Google, but somewhere in my heart, the memory of Time still teased me. Today, the Time that I opened was like a warm memory. The tone was once again objective, the photography engaging, the copy sharp and articulate. 

Amongst all the old-style articles, a gem rewarded my backward look: a thoughtful essay by Kareem Abdul Jabbar on education and the absence of critical thinking skills in many college classrooms. His discerning essay discusses students' fear of new ideas. Jabbar makes a powerful statement about his own college experience and examining life outside of familiar thoughts. 

This topic is a hot button for me, of course. Looking outside the box in college is the whole point. I hoped that my students would look outside the box and never go back! It's like those seeds sowed by my old flame, Time. Babies, a dedicated teacher will motivate students of any age. We inspire you (inspire and fire have similar Latin roots.) and if you're lucky, we set your creative and critical thinking on fire. To prohibit that is beyond sad. 

Unfortunately, I see this same regressive mindset in Seniors (not college age but older people). They resist any different content touching their lives even if little quality substance exists there. They neither listen to nor engage anything that isn't the way it always was and long for earlier times of ostensible innocence. When I was a young woman, I struggled to identify what had value like my delightful Time magazine and radical, inferior content disappointed me. I had little patience and lots of motivation. Sadly, too many Seniors have no patience, no motivation and no fire. And, what do their seedbeds grow in the absence of curiosity and creative thinking? The result is the same in young and old: a big fat crop of paralyzing fear and bewildering ignorance. 

Jabbar's excellent article and the reclaimed Time quality were refreshing and seemed in harmony with a different path that I'm taking -- not to the past but to a future with different adventures. Stick around, Babies. We have a whole new garden to plant. 

September 20, 2015

Cows in the Creek

An intense, young female minister, successfully climbing a "church-career ladder," gave a sermon on "Sleep Loose" instead of the traditional "Sleep Tight" wish we tell our children. Swaddling babies for night sleep is fashionable again and that's all wrapped up in this notion of how we should sleep: protected against drafts and intruders, two-legged or otherwise. The young woman's message shared the idea of letting our children sleep freely without worry. The dictionary has at least 12 categories of meanings for 'tight' and they all mean 'restricted' in different ways.  'Loose' on the other hand, has only a few meanings and those mostly identify some negative form of 'free.' I could list them and rattle on about positive and negative angles. Let's not.  

A picturesque little creek meanders through this part of the county and flows under many of the streets. A few days ago, right in the heart of this little city where I live now, I saw an unusual sight: three healthy, plump, clean Guernsey cows stood knee high in the creek and made a little wedge. Two were large and side by side, but a calf stood behind them. These cows weren't lost, but loose. Cars whizzed by on two sides of the creek but the cows swished their tails and looked at each other. How far had they traveled in the creek? Perhaps a gate wasn't secured tightly and the cows got loose? Perhaps these cows had done this before? Perhaps this wasn't being loose but being free? Soon they would be at an impasse where the creek flowed under this main street. The traffic moved on and I couldn't know how their freedom would play out. I can only hope they turned around and went back home after a day of being loose, being free. Somehow, I think these cows knew how to go back to their own pasture, back to where they belong, back home because they knew how to be loose. I passed that way again a few days later and saw the creek more clearly: a chain link fence kept the cows in a protected zone while the creek flowed on. Their owner knew how to hold on to them -- loosely. 

Do we humans hold on to life and to each other without understanding the positives and benefits of holding on 'loosely?' Probably. That word had negative connotations when our generation grew up and those old tapes are hard to ignore or to erase. I met a woman whose mother language is not English. Connotations, idioms and subtleties are difficult for ESL speakers to conquer. When she repeatedly told me that she's "easy," I had to be extra mindful not to snicker. Meanings. 

A friend of mine has a unique attitude about situations and relationships: he holds on 'loosely.' For him, it's a matter of balance, control and freedom. He holds on just enough to remain attached but not so tightly that he isn't free. Isn't that like sleeping loose? Like the cows getting loose? We let life, our commitments, our stuff, our families, other people and our responsibilities bind us tightly and we hold on in equal measure. Does holding tightly keep our world and dear ones safe and with us? We can get tangled up in intentions and hold on so tightly that we actually lose the person or thing or situation that is so dear to us because we strangle their freedom.

The next time you fiercely grasp a person to keep them with you, think about a more balanced way to stay connected. 'Tightly' also means bound, restricted and even constrained. Just like cows, people need room to wade into the creek of life now and then. If you hold on loosely, your cows will find their way home. Be patient. 

August 26, 2015

Hummingbird Respite

Wedgwood blue skies, a leaf-shaking breeze and low humidity announce late August to The Big City. Tropical depressions, storms and hurricanes take charge in Florida now but the Southeast has different weather. While Erika and friends frolic in the Atlantic and Pacific, a tiny nip of fall blew into The Big City today. 

Finally, I am back to scheming the plot line of the novel in progress. Funny, how that all looks different in this new location. I can feel the persona of a muse (don't laugh, Babies) tugging at me, pulling me into that place of fiery thinking and feeling that somehow translates into words on the page. Can muses be male? The Urban Dictionary calls them "Agents of Fortune." Mine originated those Wyatt-blue eyes that defined the last novel -- where did that come from? Is my muse a part of my imagination that finally wakes up? That imagines blue eyes and people who never existed but have life? Did I encounter an Agent of Fortune who was my Muse? Hmm. The cooler weather tempts me back to other late Augusts and brings a wistfulness, a bittersweet lure. And I return there again and again like a hummingbird returns to an empty feeder. And I write. 

Moving again has unsettled me; it's been difficult, strange, demanding and of course, the damn trains run through all that on the quarter hour. So often I tell others to go outside; I did that myself this evening. I went to that private, secluded courtyard with a fountain in the middle and sat on a hard bench. I listened to the water dripping over the edges of the bowls and thought that might refresh my own flow. Four large Crepe Myrtle trees with their pink blooms straggling here and there form a little wind break. Someone had placed a wind chime and a hummingbird feeder on an adjacent porch. I didn't hear one train whistle. 

Suddenly, a flicker of something heading into the myrtles caught my eye but I couldn't find it again. An elegant bird flew out of the tree and to the empty feeder. I knew how that beautiful bird felt and I watched, silently. The hummingbird was a male with a beautiful rusty chest. Soon an even tinier female, delicate compared to his elegance, arrived. They flitted from tree to tree. One always stayed behind. Finally, I saw their purpose: it wasn't the empty feeder. Their mission was their babies -- two who needed courage to fly on to the next tree, on to their nest. Then, dusk was settling and I couldn't see them anymore. 

Back inside I encountered a brand new resident who had used the wrong address and mail hadn't followed her from there to here. We talked of ways to reroute the postal system in her favor. I thought of the long trail that brought me here and of all the detours of my own mail, of my "stuff," of my spirit and of unceasing train whistles. Isn't that the whole point? To show someone whose journey isn't sure how to move from one metaphorical tree to another? The fountain, the hummingbirds did inspire me to have courage for one more little flight, for ignoring the empty feeder and for listening to that voice in my imagination that speaks louder than the trains. Can an Agent of Fortune be winged?  

August 12, 2015

Eau de Clorox and the ER

Do you remember a wintry day when you were too sick to go to school and a grown up checked on you around twelve-thirty, asked if you were hungry and you said yes? You snuggled deeper under the covers and the smell of chicken noodle soup or bacon for a BLT floated through the house. On some level right then, you knew you would recover and life would be good again. Probably for many of us, that food became our "go to" comfort food as adults when life zaps us.  

Once (thank goodness, only once) in grade school, I had an ear infection with a fever and no grown up could miss work. A neighbor took me in. Incense, tobacco, and wet German shepherd dog odors filled her house. I was instructed to lie on the couch with squeaky plastic covers on it and to cover myself with my coat. Around ten, Mrs. Paula, who drank coffee, smoked and had television, said that I simply had to eat something and she would fix me up. She made milk toast: dry toast chunks in a bowl of milk that I was supposed to eat with a big spoon. Not. I never forgot the smell of that house, the smell of that mushy bowl and never had any problem understanding the notion of a "milquetoast" and why people like that make me queasy.

We seldom think of smells and the varied, deep memories they can create until we smell "something" unexpected and we're rubber-banded back in time. 

No one expects the unexpected on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon. The maintenance man hung pictures in my new apartment. A friend called and we chatted for a bit; I put the cordless phone on the coffee table and stood up. In an uncontrollable, unstoppable nanosecond I felt myself fall, my head hit a bookcase, and my whole left side hit the floor, face first. I was on the flipping floor.

Babies, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” came to mind. Simultaneous head swelling, bones throbbing, muscles stinging and a very unladylike, “Oh, hell!” registered. What to do first: rub my head, try to get up, let the stupidity of the situation rule? The phone was reachable and soon staff arrived with their keys; two paramedics who, in spite of their politeness, took complete charge, resisted my negotiations to move myself, plunked me on a gurney and waited for a police officer who wanted to know, “Were you abused?”

My BP remained astronomical for the next few hours; no, I didn’t see stars but dizziness, headache and nausea had settled in for the long haul. My cane and my purse (without my house key inside!) joined me on the gurney and off we all went, in the Metro Ambulance, not running X, but maneuvering around rush hour traffic and of course, the ever-punctual five-thirty train.

I could hear the 911 operator over the Squad’s radio assign a call of “Woman in distress who took Percocet and Xanax.” I looked at the paramedic and said, “That was smart” and he replied, “We don’t transport bright people most of the time.” Big city life on a Wednesday.

At the ER…

The train passes and we get to the ER which is the busiest one in this state (Must be a new designation because two nurses made a point of saying that). The paramedic named Tom tells an ER nurse my "tale" and I'm in a room, STAT. My little room has two wall mounted dispensers of green, accordion-style "don't be sick" bags and they gave me one of my very own to clutch. The room also has the usual hospital room items and a flatscreen TV on the wall but the multi-functional control doesn't work.

The first of many vitals checks and pain classifications begin. BP stays in the red zone but the pain level stops going up. Of course, the admissions clerk and her rolling computer appear immediately to update my info. My male nurse, RN and MSN, looks like a young Pierce Brosnan but with brown eyes, taller and better hair. Nothing more to add there. He covers me with two heated-blankets and kindness. 

An ER doctor comes in, asks more questions and pushes, probes, pulls and prods me. Test orders go into the computer. Nurse "PB-look-alike" returns and takes a "cup"of blood from my thumb. It's evening and I've had little water since early afternoon, ergo, flat veins make drawing blood difficult. 

Soon I am off to get x rays of both hips, many of that knee, spine, chest, shoulder and pelvis wearing one of those fabulous hospital gowns and clutching my two blankets and green bag. I think I'm radioactive by now and headache and nausea compete for my attention. Two excellent but not so young x ray techs assist me on and off the x ray table at my own pace and particular pain limits. They take a number of views with me on the gurney. Tests move along quickly and I see few other patients on the way back to the ER department. But, I can hear those unseen patients. Crying, yelling, and gurney wheel noises move past my room with the door shut tightly. Among all the motorcycle accidents, falls, car accidents and cardiac and cerebral accidents, a shooting victim arrives. The news later reports her death. 

A young man in light blue scrubs appears and whisks me off to the CT Scan Department. Gurneys fill up three curtained slots, one man in a wheel chair and six more patients line the walls to the CT imaging rooms. Broken arm, broken leg, car accident contusions, and other unseen injuries like mine flow into the rooms. One man in an arm sling and leg boot seems unconscious. As quickly as one patient leaves the waiting area, another arrives. 

Soon, I'm in a room on the CT table with my head in a cradle. The table slides in and out and the drum whirs around to scan my head, face and neck. As the table moves, the strong, yet somehow comforting, whiff of bleach floats about my head. The volume of sick and injured moving through that place never slows but unseen "someones" keep the laundry moving at the same pace. For just a second, I was reminded of the smell of the bacon or soup so long ago. Test results remained uncertain and that night would be long, but somewhere, someone was working to make things "okay" for the rest of us. No, the smell of bleach isn't like chicken noodle soup or bacon but smells can be symbolic as well as sensory. Somehow, I felt I would recover and my world would once again be right. 

Back in the ER, a new nurse comes on duty and, besides her regular duties, re-boots the TV control. As I wait for test results, I watch "Shark Tank."

Bruises and "big crown knots" will heal. Headaches will go away. I will see other doctors, have more tests and discover that my knee, that knee, has messed up. Rinse and repeat. Again, I will have to trust it's functionality but not until I heal. 

As for the larger world and all being right with it? Today, that busy hospital is on security lockdown after a"called-in threat." How do we trust our larger world when individuals or groups decide to interfere with our most basic and vulnerable need to be "okay?" 

Police cars, TV reporters and cameramen blocked off the street outside the main entrance. The hospital was locked down but not evacuated. No one in or out. I'm sure that the CT, x ray, and all the critical departments in the hospital with the busiest ER in the state went right on changing the sheets and being ready for whatever might come their way. 


August 3, 2015

The Emperor's New Lab Coat

As long as I can remember, lawyers, CEOs, clergymen, professors, committee chairmen, presidents of organizations and boards, teachers, ladies who sneer, mean girls, doctors, politicians, men who jog and supervisors, et al, with delusions of invisible new clothes and the privileges contained therein are a "hot button" for me. These people are bullies and whenever I run into (and immediately afoul) of any emperor in invisible clothes, I disengage and disappear. Whenever I run into a quasi emperor who parades in "new clothes" to a cheering crowd? Confronting that circumstance is the foundation of this blog.

Too often lately, "the emperor" in question is a member of the medical profession. That comforting white coat with the intricate frog-closures seems to have morphed into a raiment with built-in divinity and privilege. Those "new clothes" invite pontificating from atop "Mount Medicine" and banish compassion, empathy and diagnostic acumen. When emperors take themselves too seriously, everyone loses. A Medicare Questionnaire on an upgraded Tablet now comprises the annual physical. Touch the patient? Well, which question requires that? Just short answers -- the clock is ticking away in strict fifteen minute increments.   

Now that I have morphed into an older (okay, old), Rubenesque woman with a dab of remaining confidence and a working brain (at least today), I combat health issues that swirl around a circle of past mistakes and new complications with enough blame to spin up a tornado. As my vision continues to lessen and the adventure of that certain knee replacement at the UMC continues to degrade my mobility, I ventured into the medical world again in an effort to save my vision and to keep some mobility. I just want to know what is wrong; no miracles - just information. In all fairness, my group of excellent physicians has grown in my new location, but often, I've found disrespect, harassment, insults and, frequently an attitude of "the emperor doesn't answer questions." 

Oh, sure, I know that any semblance of the old family doctor is gone. The nearest thing is the rise of the concierge doctor who is way above most seniors' pay grade. Many quality doctors who specialize in geriatrics strictly limit the number of Medicare patients. So what can we do? When we were younger and mistreated, our only recourse was to risk bringing it out into the open. Keep telling until someone listened. Well, that's our only solution now too. 

We seniors face many loses: our mobility, our beloved family and friends, our homes, our resources, our status in the community, our health and even, our identity. When we need treatment in older years, must we sacrifice even our dignity to get medical care? Doesn't the Hippocratic Oath mean anything anymore? What happened to the concept of "do no harm?" When a professional doesn't care or feels patients and their current issues aren't worth the "emperor's time," he needs to retire and wear his new clothes in private life. I never believed the emperor had any new clothes and I still don't. How about you, Babies?

July 29, 2015

Dr. Welby Doesn't Work Here Anymore

Years ago, people who lived in rural areas had a family doctor who made house calls. When old-fashioned poultices, castor oil, a big bite of Vicks (really) or potent gargles/throat washes failed to cure the croup, high fever, pneumonia, pleurisy, or injury that felled the family member, Dr. Saure came in his trusty black Buick at night from a neighboring town. This event was always deadly serious and we kids had to remain quiet. If things were bad enough, the doctor would send an adult to summon an ambulance from the city via a neighborhood phone. The mysterious process usually ended when Dr. Saure's diagnosis brought forth a long glass needle and a tiny paper envelope from his black bag. Then, he folded his stethoscope back into the bag, folded himself back into his coat and my grandma folded the quilts back over the patient. Doctors made house calls when needed, brought life-saving treatment and we got better. Magical.   

When television arrived, Marcus Welby, Dr. Kildaire and the surly Ben Casey continued the mysterious and wonderful national image of our doctors. They were courageous, life-sustaining, respected and admired. Everyone had a story about "their" doctor who earned a special place in their family memories. Outside of Walter Cronkite, doctors were deservedly the most admired professionals in the country. Well, Babies, those salad days are over and now that we're older, where are the real life Dr. Kildaires and Marcus Welbys we trusted with our lives? A few still exist with skills, empathy and dedication patients admire, respect and honor. The rest? Retired to that mini-farm with a lake or a condo by the sea or perhaps opted out of the medical world entirely to run a free range poultry farm in Vermont. 

Today's medical community has more available technology than we could ever imagine so long ago, more intense pressure to cut costs from the mega insurance companies (buy-ups are hot news this week), more government restrictions and less time or patience. I get that and I'm sympathetic. 

However... I still want that beloved doctor of old and not The Emperor in his new clothes.... but there's more to this tale. 

July 22, 2015

A little Strauss with my coffee...

 I am in the new residence and it needs a name. I like "Southern Courtyard -- SC." Beyond a sunny, two-story atrium, a courtyard with a tiered fountain and seasonal flowers beckons me outside. Like the rest of the USA, this area swelters under heat alerts and today, a blacktop company resurfaces the parking areas here. Nothing draws me outside today. 

My day began at 6:30 a.m. -- yes, Babies, that awful time exists and a train runs through it. And through all day and night. Train tracks run smack through the middle of this historic town and that was one of General Sherman's main attractions to the area. Stop the trains. Stop the supplies to Atlanta. Well, of course, Sherman failed and the trains still stay on time. I'm two blocks from the tracks just as in my childhood and teen years but the trains are noisier because of abundant street crossings. I'm learning to tell time by the tone of each train whistle. A little surprise accompanied that horrific early hour: a curtain rod fell down and early morning sun swept in too. The SC is conspiring to make me a morning person!

Boxes keep disappearing as I find things long packed. Kitchen boxes, the largest and heaviest containers on the bottom of the stacks, are the last to have my attention. Today I went to breakfast! and had real coffee. I lingered near the atrium with my coffee and listened to a little Strauss to start my day. Perhaps mornings won't be so bad after all. Another train whistle calls out the hour. Time to get back to the boxes. 

June 18, 2015

Scrambling Humpty Dumpty

I wrote this several years ago when I lived in the River City by the Sea, but didn't post it. Because I am moving, again, I am cleaning out files and oh so many things. I ran onto this post and think it deserves a reading. I've been thinking about current events and about Seniors, in particular, and our place in the world.  

June 5, 2015

"Traveling in Steerage"

Okay, so it's come to this. To this place where I never longed to be again -- downsizing and moving, yet again. This one will make twenty-four moves for me as an adult. "And, the plane will still leave at 10 o'clock," a colleague used to say when things didn't go well and we complained. So, I will move to the other side of the mountain but not close enough to smell the loam under the trees or to watch the dappled sunlight on the ancient trees. When I was a child, I stared at the tall foothills of the Allegheny Mountains and longed to know what was on the other side. Well, Babies, the irony isn't wasted on me now. 

This move is necessary because of health issues. So once again, I am downsizing; this makes number five. No matter what I want or think or protest, the plane and all the trains will stay on time. I visited the new retirement community and picked out my apartment before they were all gone for the foreseeable future. Last week five apartments were available and now, one remains. 

Today, I began the arduous process of clearing out -- again. Some things that I held dear for so long simply can't make the trip. No room. If I want to be dramatic, I think of the emigrants to America who left Cuba in a boat or Europe in the steerage section of a freighter. Talk about downsizing and no storage. They were lucky to get out alive and to get out, period. I think of my books and photo albums and whine to myself. 

Bookcases, cabinets, several pieces of furniture that I bought before I was married in 1963 survive but can't go. Books will be donated to the library. I've spent the day sorting, judging my possessions like an emigrant preparing for departure. Philosophy, psychology and poetry books must go with me, somehow. What is the value in these old books that I re-read? The poetry that's images from someone else's life? I've come to understand that they remind me how far I've come on this journey like little mile markers along my highway. What I understood of Eliot and Frost at 15 wasn't much then, but now? Hmm.  

The value in "things" that I've kept is the memories of other times and places with family and friends. I've kept only the most treasured memories. Do I keep the ceramic ladybug a friend made for me while she fought her losing battle with cancer? What about the Willow Ladies friends and students gave me? Or the tiny porcelain Schnauzers that represent my lost dogs? Some items that seem pedestrian are really intimate memories that I can't share here or leave behind.  

It's late and my office is in shambles. The conflicting choices will have to wait another day. 

June 2, 2015

Night Intruders

It's late -- almost midnight as I sit here at my desk. The night train went through and I hear one after another plane take off the FedEx terminal. Louder jets from the air force base join them in the busy night. June's humidity brings all the sounds closer and they echo. Now, the Canada geese are sounding their alarm. I've never heard them at night and it's unsettling. What intruder from the darkness interrupts their sleep? As we get older, the sounds of life echo in our heads and our thoughts do too. Big changes ahead for me, Babies.

The intruder that lurks in my night is pain. Lots of pain. I have recently been reminded by someone that I have a pseudo independence. Well, don't we all? We can only do what our life and our bodies permit -- to say nothing of space and time. Golden Times remains a connection to strangers like the sounds of the night anonymously connect with me. You've been with me through my various medical adventures and there are more ahead. I like it better when I have fun things to share but, hey, a girl does what she can. I'll see what I might find that we will all like. 

You see, I have this leg that just can't find any peace. It demands my attention and also that of my sacroiliac nerve. Oh, sure, you've heard all about it. Me too. Over the past few months, my blog has been noticeably quiet. Me too. I've been busy with four spinal epidurals but no positive outcome. Next on the list is a consult with a neurosurgeon -- just a consult. 

And, I'm moving away from my glorious mountain. Stay tuned.