Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Memory Lane, Part 1

Sweetie and I hit the high road to adventure this morning heading for Chesapeake, VA. Unlike the old days when the man who driving refused to stop except for potty breaks, Sweetie made concessions for my bad back. The doctor and therapists didn't object to my traveling. They just wanted me to stop frequently to stretch. Distance + time = muscle ache at the end of the day. Sweetie mapped out our route, determining Florence, SC to be in exact midpoint for both distance and time. I know there is a mathematical word problem in there somewhere, but I don't know how fast the train was going, or in what direction. As predicted planned to the last detail, we made it to our pre-reserved room in the Econo-Lodge with time to spare. ( Travel question: Why is it when all you do is sit on your patootie all day, you get so tired?)

Why Virginia you ask? The short answer is we're going to a very dear friend's graduation. The long answer, is more like a trip down memory lane. A trip that started 18 years ago….

A little history: Although I moved to Jacksonville in 1995 to help take care of my parents, neither one really needed the kind of "hands on caregiving" they would one day require. Dad made it clear I had a place to live, but I also needed a job. I had worked a grand total of two jobs in my life. Well three, if you count that job I did in Rhode Island where I answered the phone for a police academy. [I was the only girl (barely 18 years old) on a secluded lot … think wilderness camp. The bathrooms were, hmmm, camp like. One day during a break, I had to go so I trotted over to the wooden shed that housed rows of urinals. Urinals! I should have turned around, before my second foot crossed the threshold. Call me naive. No, call me stupid. I kept walking inside looking for the stalls, with nice clean toilets, seat covers and lots of toilet paper. I found instead, three cops with their pants around their ankles on open air toilets, no stalls, no locks insight. I blanked out the rest of the story except to say I left and never returned. I can still hear the guffawing as I ran from the place.]

For most of my married life, I shared the Navy Adventure." My thrill seeking husband went to sea and I took care of the home front. Except when I sold sewing machines. I have no idea why I picked this job, or how I got the job. Perhaps because I'd been sewing for years. But really, how hard could it be?

Well, you try tconvincing someone they could not possibly go another day without a $600.00 sewing machine. Make no mistake, this was the Cadillac of stitching devices. I was used to the $100.00 Kenmore version. If  memory serves, I didn't sell too many. But I did set the security alarm one night before remembering to get something out of the store, which, when I opened up the back door, sent a silent alarm to the police department who sent a SWAT team out, in full regalia, to sneak up on the robbers (me, unaware stealth commandos were slinking their way around the building). I came away with my life.  A few weeks later, when I concluded selling was not my forte, the store owner made me an offer I couldn't refuse on my very own Elna Air Electronic - still one of my prized possessions.

After I got divorced, I put in an 8 year stint as administrative assistant for the National Helicopter Association. Sounds impressive, but really I was the #2 person in a two person operation. In essence I was the person who did the dirty work. Like Mikey, the Life Cereal kid, if my boss needed someone to climb into a dumpster, heft 50lb mail sacks, crawl into ceiling duct work, get her legal papers signed by  by her X-husband, take her to the hospital, and sleep on bags full of money, she asked me. I may have balked, but I never refused. Most of the job was so unbelievable I couldn't put it all on a resume.

And that my friends, is the work record I had to present future employers when I got to Jacksonville.

"Just wait," my sister told me. "My friend is about to adopt a baby and she's going to need a nanny." So that's what I did. I waited. Until one day I got a call for an appointment to meet Laura and Preston Belcher. Wonderful people who I would grow to love just like family. But I confess, I had eyes for no one but Robert. At one month old, fresh out of the hospital from a bout with RSV, he probably only weighed 6 or 7 pounds. I'd had my own children. I had a granddaughter. But I wasn't quite prepared to fall in love so fast or so hard.

Robert and I spent almost every day of the next 4 years together. I was the adult in the relationship. He was the teacher.  We chased garbage trucks, rode elephants, hung Easter eggs, splashed in puddles, played "castle," watched movies, jumped on trampolines, and did most everything else a young boy can think of. When he took his first steps, I was there. I bought him his first pair of cowboy boots. I attended his birthday parties, his sporting events, and first day of school(s). I took him to swimming lessons, the doctor's office, the playground, and the Monster Truck rally.

Then my mom got sick. I needed to stay home more. Robert went to Kindergarten. The Belchers moved away. It was not the end of our relationship but things changed. What is it the priest says at the end of a wedding ceremony? "What God has joined together, let no man put asunder." There is no doubt in my mind that God joined our lives together, that March day back in 1996. In the words of that Navy advertisement - being Robert's nanny was one adventure after another, never a job.

I feel like a hypnotist just clapped his hands and I'm back in room 119 at the Econo-Lodge. The air conditioner pumps out cold air. My phone chirps to let me know I have a message or two waiting. Sweetie sleeps beside me. I don't know how long I've been typing. It's like that every time I start remembering the years I spent with Robert. Tomorrow I get to throw my arms around a man/child who stands a head taller than me, who I haven't seen in 2 years, and feel that same heart connection that time has not erased.

Stay tuned,
Merry ME

Monday, June 9, 2014

To Proof, or not to Proof

I know spellcheck makes a lot of mistakes.
Especially the one on my phone.
It drives me crazy trying to make words out of my shorthand.
Still I don't always proof my writing as well as I should before hitting send/publish.

For example, take the title of my last post.
"They Shoot Hores Don't They?"
I left out one little "s" and it totally changes things, don't you think?
My little sister pointed out the mistake.
I wonder did anyone else notice?
If so, is that what you thought I meant?

Then I was corresponding via e-mail with a dear friend.
I'm going to be too close to her neck of the woods to let the opportunity to meet her go by.
In the subject line I put, "How fare are you?"
Fare instead of far.

Not really a big deal, except I cringe every time I see the thread.

Shhh. Can you hear that?
Can you hear my father saying, "if you're going to do something, Mary, do it right"
Okay. Okay.
I'll start proofing my work mo better.

Merry ME

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

They Shoot Hores, Don't They?

I've been having back problems on and off for about a year.
It comes on, I suffer through it, go to the doc, get a prescription for prednisone, feel better for awhile.
Then the whole process starts over.
Last time, I went in saying I didn't want to take any  more prednisone, but after a few minutes of being poked and prodded - does this hurt? yes. this? yes. what about this? yes, yes, yes. - I gladly accepted steroids and would have taken anything handed to me for the pain.

Before I go any further, I need to confess that when it comes to pain, I'm a whiner. I try to suffer in silence. But everyone knows "OMG! Crap! or Sweet Jesus!" pack more of a punch when punctuated like a child who drops her ice cream cone after one lick.  Sometimes the pain shimmies down through my leg like an electric poker and my initial response is to shout.

My primary care doc reading my X-ray.  "You've got rust, in there."
ME: Rust?
Doc: Yeh, like an old car.
ME: My back is like a rusty old car?
Doc? Anybody your age is going to have some rust.
ME (to myself) Rust happens.
ME (to the Doc) So what does one do about the rust.
Doc: In the old days, before insurance companies got involved, I would give you an injection to relieve some of the inflammation. Now, I have to send you to a back doctor.

A few weeks later.
Back doctor: You've got some arthritis. The space between you L4 and L5 discs is compressed. I've seen a lot worse. You won't need surgery. Let's start with physical therapy.
ME (Relieved, the "s" word has been avoided, but not so sure I like the sound of PT.) Ok, sign me up.

The next week. Three days after another round of Prednisone. I'm feeling good. I go in for an evaluation by physical therapists.
Therapist: Does this hurt?
ME: No.
Therapist: This?
ME: No.
Therapist: Bend over. Pick your leg up. Lean to the side. Any pain?
ME: No.
Therapist: Hmmm, I'm not sure what to say if I can't reproduce the pain.
ME: Just wait.

Two days later. As I predicted, the pain inched its way from my back to my hip. A twinge here, an electric jolt there.
New Therapist:  We'll start slow. Stretch this way. Bend that way. Hold for 5 seconds. Do three sets of 10.
ME (lying on my back, knee bent, pushing and pulling): This isn't so bad. I learned the routine. Continue every morning and every night.

Next appointment is with Jon. He and the intern working with him, put me through the paces. They add riding the stationary bike, placing a stretchy band around my legs as I do "bridges" and "clams." Jon has me lie on my stomach while he manipulates my lower spine. Don't ask me what manipulate means. It felt like I was a ball of dough and he was kneading it. He called it "mobes"  - therapist shorthand for "mobility." I thought he said "mojo."

I go to Tennessee to be with my sister when she discusses possible brain surgery with docs at Vanderbilt University. Sitting for 3 days does not help my back at all. I ask to board the airplane with the "passengers that need a little extra time." I stand at the bottom of the stairs (who knew they still had stairs for airplanes) and debate how I'm going to get to the top. The other passengers that didn't need help walk around me.  By the time I deboard in Jacksonville I look like one of the stages of homosapien development … still stooped, not yet fully erect.

Jon: How are you today?
ME: Um, does the fact that I resemble the Leaning Tower of Pisa tell you anything?
Jon to Brandon: We'll have to go back to the beginning and start slow.
ME: I want some mojo. I want some pain medication. I want my mommy.

Eventually I get back to where I was before the trip. I progress to 10 minutes on the stationery bike. Modified squats. Lifting my butt off the table. Counting to thirty with 5 second intervals. Marching while sitting. Raising my left leg and right arm at the same time. I can tell I'm more flexible. My "core" feels tighter. I take Bella for a walk, undaunted by the height and length of the bridge I decide to cross. The next day I have what Jon calls a "flare up." Note to self: So what if your core is tight, walking causes flare ups.

Murphy's Physical Therapy Law: Flare ups only happen on the weekend. There is no one to address my pain. I use my fall back position. I ask the doc I work for to give me something, anything to take away the pain. He comes through with Ibuprofen big boys, some muscle relaxants and foamy topical cream. I survive the weekend. The back doc orders an MRI. I develop complete sympathy for people who live with constant pain.

My sister Jean says "you reap what you sow." She thinks her hearing loss could be the result of not being sympathetic enough to our hard of hearing father. I begin to wonder if I'm having back pain because I fussed at my dad so much about the drugs he took for pain. Drugs I'd give my eye teeth for at this stage of the game.

An MRI shows nothing new or unexpected. The word "moderate" is used  to describe why I have what I call "severe" pain. Back to PT. I work my way back to where I was before the bridge walk. Still have some pain. On the proverbial scale from 1 - 10, I'm under 5. This is progress.

Jon: I think if we can keep tightening up your core, you'll be finished here. Let's try something new since you work with a baby.
Jon: (handing me a wooden box with a 10lb weight inside) Keep your back straight. Bend at the hips. Pick this up. Put it back down. Repeat 30 times.
ME: 1-3- This isn't so bad. 4-6- How many do I have to do? 7-9 - Good god, I think my arms are going to fall off. 10 - Where's the mojo?

That was Thursday. On Friday afternoon I felt a slight twinge in my back and leg. By the time Bella is in bed and I'm on my way home, pain is radiating to my ankle.
Sat. I call Jon: Just take it easy over the weekend. Use a lot of ice.
ME: Ice is my new best friend.
Sunday: I can sit, but can't walk with out pain.
Monday: I call the doc and ask for steroid injections.
Tuesday. Sweetie watches over me like a mother hen. He won't let me do anything that might hurt. Everything hurts. I go to therapy.
Jon: Don't get discouraged. This happens sometimes. Let's try something different. Manual traction.
Me: I watch a young girl stand on a plastic platform that is like a big ball cut in half. She's doing lunges that look impossible for even a person with a good new, let alone someone whose knee is recovering from some kind of strain. I watch a man who fell 20 feet off a ladder do alphabet circles with his foot that was shattered. I watch an old man doing leg lifts, an old woman exercising her shoulders. Everyone appears to be making progress. I start to cry. I feel like the barbeque cooker whose bottom had rusted out.

Rust. Schmust. I need some ribbon to finish off some bears. Sweetie drops me off at the front door of Walmart and gives me strict instructions to wait for him. I feel like a two-year old and walk like an 80 year old. Here comes Sweetie with a riding cart.
Sweetie: Get on.
ME: Where in the basket?
Sweetie: No. You're going to drive.
ME: What? I don't know how to drive one of those things.
Sweetie (the man who says he can teach me how to drive an RV): You can do it.
ME (pain trumps pride): I get on, pull the go lever and shoot forward almost knocking over through traffic. I release my grip coming to a swift and complete stop. I try again. Slower this time. Think putt putt putt. I find the ribbon department. I scan the shelves for the colors I want. I pay no attention to where I'm going. When I remember to look up, I've boxed myself in between the shelves and boxes sitting in the middle of the aisle. I can't move forward, there is only one way out - backward. Backing up has never been my forte. Ask my friend Mary Bruton about her fence I took out just a few weeks ago. I swear when I looked that gate was open. I have no idea how it got in my way. I press the reverse lever. Beep! Beep! Beep! Dammit all. I suppose it is a good thing to warn people of my coming, but jeez, why don't they just get on the intercom and announce there is a student driver in the ribbon aisle. Then there would have been an audience when I backed into the end cap,  causing the clearence items to fall precariously close to the edge. I round the corner, without hurting anyone, including myself.

There is a man standing mid-aisle. I warn him I'm a woman driver without a license.
"Oh honey," he says, "I'm the worst driver ever. A bag of M&M's and road rageare a deadly combination." I laugh as I go by without driving over his toes. I spy Sweetie in the fry pan aisle. I think it's time to go. I head for the door while Sweetie goes for the car. Thinking I'm doing a good deed, I attempt to manuever said cartmobile into a parking spot near the door. The plug is on the other side, which means I need to do a Y-turn. On my 3rd attempt to back out straight, I notice two men watching me.
ME: What? What? Are you enjoying the show?
Man: I'm just waiting for your cart.
ME: This cart? The one I'm trying park?
Man: Yes, that one.
ME: Well here, be my guest. I limped out the door.

One the way home, the doc called me. I'm scheduled for an epidural injection on Friday. I'm not real sure I want one, but it's got to be better dragging my leg behind me like some creature from a B movie. I probably should have thought twice before giving dad's motorized wheel chair away.

Live and learn,
Merry Me

PS. If being rusty, inflexible, unable to walk or work isn't enough. When I got home from work tonight Sweetie informed me that he'd ordered a stop snoring, sleep apnea curing chin strap for both of us. It was a 2 for 1 special. Good god, growing old is not for sissies.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A Cry for Help

I heard a story the other day that made my heart ache.
The 12 year old granddaughter of a friend of a friend swallowed a whole bottle of Tylenol.
As we blithely discussed what could be so bad that a child would try to take her own life, the young girl lay in the hospital exhausted and most likely even more unhappy than she was a few hours before. Tests would tell if she did herself any permanent harm.

When I hear stories like that I have flashbacks of the days when I felt so much emotional pain, dying seemed to be the only way out. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say even though it is a generalization, people who attempt suicide don't want to die - they just want to end the pain. Their worlds have gone dark. They are lost in the tunnel with no light at the end to guide them home. I've been in that tunnel where the false things I believed about myself trumped reality. I felt worthless, ashamed, lonely, unlovable.

It took a trip to the hospital, having my stomach pumped, and years of therapy to convince me that none of those things I thought about myself was true. I was 30 something years old. I'd had lots of time to screw up my life. What, pray tell, does a 12 year old know of living and dying? Too much, I'm sad to say, too much.

A few months ago I met with a woman whose son died last fall. She never used the word "suicide."  For reasons none of us will ever know, the life of Brian Childers, son, brother, uncle, professional skateboarder, and sneakerhead, ended. Brian left behind a lot of people with a lot of questions. Brian's mom wanted me to make bears out of Brian's favorite T-shirts, knit hats and ball caps. As I've found with other memorial bear projects, Brian's clothes said a lot about who he was and what he loved. Skateboarder, Coca Cola bottle and turtle charms were to be attached to the bear in some way. Each of the 6 bears said, "remember me and how I lived, not how I died."

I can't stop thinking about that young girl. I'd like to make her a bear. A memorial bear. Because I hope that the pain that child felt, died the day she swallowed all those pills. And I pray that when she is on the other side of healing, she will bear witness to the power of love.

In the words of Sue Bender in her book, Plain and Simple, "Miracles come after a lot of hard work."

I believe that.
Merry ME

P.S. If you want to see the bears I made for Brian's friends and family, go to my FB page,