Monday, February 28, 2011

Birthdays

I usually celebrate my Birthday Month.  Once the calendar gods conflated Washington and Lincoln into Presidents it seemed only right that I continue the tradition of celebrating all through the month of February. 

Or, it might have started when the Cuters were very small and I was feeling invisible and unappreciated, giving all the time and not finding much in the way of personal rewards.  Not that I didn't love being their mother.  Not at all.  I was just missing the fact of being ME.  No labels, no attachments, no roles.... just the girl who was born on the 27th of the month.

G'ma liked to tell the story of my birth this way : "And when I felt you coming 2 days early I said 'No! Just wait a little longer and you'll be a leap year baby'"  I rued my impatience as a child, and I think I still do, today.  One blow-out celebration every four years - what fun!  "How old are you" would take on new meaning.... do you mean how many years have I been on the planet or how many birthdays have I celebrated?  It was just the kind of conundrum my family and I would have relished.

Alas, there I was, smiling up at Daddooooo from my bassinet in French Hospital early on the morning of February 27th.  He swore that I smiled at him and nodded when he welcomed me to the world.  I never argued with that story; who would complain about being labeled exemplary when only a few hours old?

Are you seeing a pattern here?  Birthdays were sacrosanct in our family.  You were the special person and people tried to please you.  TBG was born on January 2nd and his mom on December 26th; he still doesn't understand my need for hoopla and spirit and joy.  He was always driving back to school or starting school on his natal anniversary, and Nannie was so wiped out from creating the best Christmas ever that all she wanted was a nap on the couch and to be left alone.  

But the end of February was a great time for a party, I always thought, and I made sure that I had one every year.  At 35 I spent the day cleaning out our condo to prepare to close the sale on the 28th..... but I made sure to order my strawberry filled yellow layer cake before I donned the plastic gloves.  I picked up champagne on the way home, ordered dinner from a local restaurant which delivered, parked the kids with the sitter and TBG and I toasted our good fortune.  

From then on, I took charge of the day.  Hikes, lunches, a good book and no interruptions..... whatever I decided that I needed that year I made sure that it was there for me.  If you take care of yourself you don't ever feel disappointed.  

This year was different, though.  Big Cuter wondered about the absence of my Birthday Month Obsession.  I kept forgetting that it was in the offing.  Watching the sun rise on a new day everyday and relishing the fact that I was there to see it had over-shadowed my self-absorption, it seemed.  I was surprised at myself, but I couldn't muster much enthusiasm for the event.

And then it was upon me.  The Golden Gopher and his lovely wife (who deserves her own blogonym but I can't seem to find one that fits) drove down from Phoenix the night before - to SuziSit and to celebrate.  They'd not seen me since I'd been shot; we relived the whole experience once again.

They are among my oldest friends.  There were lots and lots of tears.  Lots of long silences.  Many head shaking moments.  And the looks.... piercing, comforting, questioning, consoling, frightened and frightening and ultimately just very very sad.  There was a dead child in our thoughts and my perforated body on the couch and suddenly it all became very real to me:

I was very lucky to be celebrating this birthday at all .

PDXHeartman, who comments here from time to time, must understand this.  A transplant recipient, he, too, faced the stark reality that life is often not under your control, that birthdays are not guaranteed.  I re-read his comments while TBG turned off the lights and straightened up the living room before we went to bed.  It's true, denizens, you do help me heal.

My high school classmates have begun to turn 60 this year.  I, who skipped a grade, am a mere 59.  It's not much of a number.  It has no significance beyond marking the passage of time.  I neither looked forward to it nor dreaded its arrival.  It was just another birthday.

Except that every time I thought about it I also thought about my perforations, about my collapsed lung, about my shattered hip, about Christina.  He-who-should-be-slapped was in my thoughts, too.... and I didn't like it at all.  I try to keep him out of my living room, out of my head, out of my life.  He's already done his damage; why should he occupy space in my life?  But I just couldn't get rid of him this weekend.  His actions forced me to reevaluate my place in the world, my actual physical occupying space in this world.  I was almost not here to blow out my candles.  He tried to end my life.

Believe me, that is a sentence you never want to type.

So there I was, trying to sleep, trying to feel grateful for the fact that I was alive, that my children could sing Happy Birthday instead of weeping uncontrollably when the sun came up, that TBG could rub my achy hip and know that the passage of time would heal me.  And all I could do was cry.

I've been pretty good about keeping the door shut on the horror of it all.  Having been medicated through the initial very scary to look at stages of my hospitalization I think that I had the easiest time of it all.  Little Cuter and SIR and TBG and Amster watched tubes and monitors and swollen body parts and worried, without sleep or real meals, day after day.  The doctors assured them that I would be fine, but their reality was listening to me cry out for my mommy and Christina, watching me inhale and exhale,  seeing me in pain and marveling that bullets had torn through my skin.  It must have been awful.  I remember almost none of it.

But something happened to me as I watched the clock click closer to midnight.  I began to feel grateful.

I was here.  In bed, with pillows propping me up and half a pain pill coursing through my system, but I was here.  The fates and a fool had conspired to try to prevent it, but I was here.  I wasn't celebrating something that happened 59 years ago, I was celebrating the here and now.  

Suddenly, 59 felt like a great number.

And so I slept and woke up .... which I might not have done but for the grace of God or the doctors or something or somebody.  I showered and dressed and opened presents and ate yogurt and reveled in the presence of old friends.  There were looks, no doubt about it there were looks.  We were all just a little spooked by the whole situation.  We're aging, we're experiencing surgeries and excisions and medications and aches and pains but bullets were never supposed to be a part of the scenario.  There was extra juice in our hugs, a certain something in our looks.  This was a special day, indeed.

We shoved our guests into the back of our 2-door car and drove to Wildflower and stuffed ourselves silly.  Our waitress had served us at my mini-reunion of high school friends in January, and she was thrilled to see how much stronger I looked.  The restaurant had sent me a free birthday dessert coupon, but one was just not enough.  We had creme brule and apple pop tarts with their own cheesecloth decorating device and cookies and chocolate covered strawberries and ice cream and HAPPY BIRTHDAY was written in edible chocolate and we over-indulged and laughed and grinned and laughed some more.

It was really the very best birthday I've ever had.  I was here to enjoy it.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Healing Through Typing


It occurs to me that my best therapists may be unaware of the importance of their role in my life.  Since I like to think of myself as a thoughtful person, as one who lets people know when I think that they have been wonderful, this concerns me.  Allow me to rectify the situation forthwith:

I cannot recover without you, denizens.
No way.
No how.
Without a doubt, you are my best therapy.

The media frenzy left me physically drained and mentally exhausted and strangely comforted.  Sometimes shocking, sometimes comforting, always provocative.... the process of explaining myself in soundbites led me to evaluate my situation in ways I might not have considered without the questioning.

Forced to be concise I became precise.  I thought about my words before I said them.  I talked to everyone, telling the same stories over and over again.  I was never alone and I hardly slept - there were always opportunities to think out loud.  By the time I left the hospital and was able to speak to reporters I had the teflon version down pat.

It was boring.  Almost immediately it felt static, as if I were going to be there forever.  Stuck.  

I freaked out.  I hurt and I was scared and I was on tv and in the newspapers but it was the same old same old and I didn't like it at all.  Not one tiny bit. Was this really me?

At the time I hadn't noticed that my recovery would not be linear, that it would be more like climbing a long flight of stairs.  The risers are of different heights and the steps are of different widths and woods.  Sometimes the transitions are easy and I don't even have to hold up my skirt as I move on.  Sometimes it hurts enough to make me cry. But I am always moving on.  At the time, though, I didn't know that.  I thought that this was my new normal.

And then I read your comments.  You were proud of me.  You were glad I was okay.  You were encouraging as you shared your personal experiences and your words of wisdom and I reveled in the love.  I thought I was whining, but you thought I was open and honest.  Someone thought I was wise.  I couldn't imagine a higher compliment. 


I didn't ask to be the face of the tragedy.  My focus was on my body, my perforated, punctuated, slit up the middle body. I came to Nellie-the-Notebook when I could, rarely meeting my self-imposed 6am deadline and you told me that it didn't matter.  You laughed and you cried and there were a lot of you, many many many more of you than there had been before Christina and Gabby and Gabe and Ron and Mr. Stoddard and the others and I were shot.  You weren't creepy stalkers; you were genuinely concerned.

And somewhere along about the end of January I realized that I was going to heal and that you were going to help me.  I recognized that your presence was forcing me to concentrate on the process.  The more you listened, the more I thought and the deeper I went, being honest and paying attention as my fingers told a story that my heart had yet to hear.

It's a funny thing, writing a personal blog which suddenly becomes intensely introspective and intensely public all at the same time.  Without readers, it's a diary.  With readers, it's a conversation, an experience shared among equals.

It's the least expensive and most intense therapy I've gotten.

And it seems to be working the best.

So, from my heart to your eyes, I say:

Thank you, denizens. Thank you for helping me to heal.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Vistas (chapter 2)

Thanks to Little Cuter, I don't have to think this morning. 

My aches and pains move around randomly.  Sometimes it's my mid-line seam, sometimes it's the exit wound on my thigh, today it's my lower back.  Exercising is a good thing.  Less numbness is a good thing.  The tingling and throbbing which result from exercise and less numbness.... not so much.

Sitting still and typing requires being able to reach the keyboard.  Right now there's not a comfortable connection between Nellie-the-Notebook and my forearms.  I can't lean it on my abdomen today and I can't sit at the desktop.  I don't want to take pain meds if a simple change of position will alleviate the sensation.  But I do want to write to you.

Enter Little Cuter and her fancy-schmancy camera and cloudy late afternoons in the desert.  Following on the heels of yesterday's post about vistas, these photos seem to fit right in.

I'll be back tomorrow at about noon with something of more depth.  For now, enjoy the scenery:







Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Vistas

I had breakfast at my kitchen table this morning.  For a woman who's been couch-bound for 6 weeks that was a real accomplishment. My L.A. SuziSitter made us oatmeal and set the table with placemats and I read the comics and Ann Landers and listened to her tell me about her new car.  There was a pause in the conversation which she punctuated by commenting on the serenity of the view from our windows.

It was just that view which sealed the deal for us in buying this house.  We searched for two years, all over America, looking for the perfect place to live.  We needed a university town with good local sports, an airport which had direct flights to our kids (TUS used to fill that bill nicely, but that's another post), a community with spirit and a real sense of place, and the house needed a vista.  Not a view, necessarily, but a vista.  I needed space.

Returning to Long Island after my freshman year in Ithaca, I remember being struck by how flat everything was.  Turning a corner was turning a corner; there was no hillside in the distance to take your breath away.  I had grown accustomed to looking up and around and being delighted with what I saw.  My hometown had become a geographic snooze-fest.  I took myself to the beach nearly every afternoon that summer, sometimes just sitting in a parking lot overlooking the ocean, sometimes walking the boardwalk, but always looking out toward the horizon.  It soothed my soul.

When TBG's work took us to NYC for a year, I had visions of finally becoming an East Side Chick.  I was going to live with the trendsetters, shop with the fashionistas, and feel like a real New Yorker.  Unfortunately, budgetary considerations dictated otherwise.  Daddooooo took TBG on the Staten Island Ferry to cool his fevered, frustrated brow and from the front deck they saw a sign advertising 2 bedrooom apartments, with parking and a pool.  A quick trip up the hill brought them to a clean, convenient to the ferry building with rents that were one-third of those in my most desired location. 

"Can you live in Staten Island?" he asked me over the phone.  "Staten Island??????" I shrieked.  I'd never been to Staten Island except when crossing the Goethals Bridge on my way to points south.  I knew no one who had ever been to Staten Island.  I wanted to live on the Upper East Side, not in faux-suburbia. 

My screeching was ignored and wiser minds prevailed and our possessions were moved into a lovely apartment with two bathrooms and bedrooms and a real kitchen and dining room and not that many roaches (it was New York City after all).  I was depressed, embarrassed, sad beyond reasonableness.... until TBG took me by the shoulders and turned me toward the window.

There was the Statute of Liberty.... the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.... lower Manhattan .... right outside my new home.  I could sit at my kitchen table and watch the marine traffic and the clouds catch on Lady Liberty's torch and my eyes could wander for miles.  It was a great view, but it was an even greater vista.  It drew me out of myself and my disappointment and sent me soaring into the world.

Upon our return to Chicago, I searched for a similar sense of visual space.  The high rise I chose had bright green shag carpet  and a galley kitchen which barely allowed for the refrigerator door to open but it had floor to ceiling windows looking south and west and vistas stretching to the farthest suburbs.  True, Lake Michigan was to the east, but I wasn't interested in a view.  I just cared about the expanse of space available to my eyes.  Sunsets and fireworks and miles of unbroken sky made coming home from work an adventure that never grew old.  We put Nannie's oriental carpets over the neon floor coverings, heeding her advice that "Oriental rugs go with everything" and watched as our friends wore their sunglasses to sit on the couch in the late afternoon.  It was a noisy but wonderful place to call home.

When we could afford to purchase our own living space, we ended up living cheek-by-jowl in the concrete jungle.  There was 18" of air between our first condo and the parking garage on the north.  The original owners of the greystone had sold the front yard for commercial use decades before moving out and turning the building into condos.  We lived behind Blockbuster; our gate was between the garage and the video store and led to a narrow walkway and a pretty porch which afforded a view of the back of the store.  The porch in the rear looked down the alley.  Vistas?  Hardly.  Our house in the city was larger and had a yard and a real front garden, but it was 2 stories surrounded by 3 and 4 and 18 stories and vistas weren't in the picture then, either.

Marin County is nothing but great views, anywhere and everywhere you look.  We didn't see the city or the Golden Gate Bridge, but Richardson Bay was out my kitchen window and my next door neighbor and I would call one another two or three times a week saying "Quick, go look at the light on the mountains!"  After 10 years of urban dwelling, the vistas eased the transition to suburbia.  I might not be able to walk to all my errands, but my home was surrounded by far off spaces ... and that was a good thing.  We lived in 4 homes in California and each one afforded me the opportunity to sit at my kitchen table and dream.

I watched the sun change the colors of the Headlands from green to grey to deep turquoise.  I looked at Mt. Tam and picked out the trails I knew and loved.  I kept track of the dog walkers in the open space and the cars speeding across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.  On a clear day, Vallejo was visible in the distance, and I could let myself float on the breeze as I took a brain-trip north toward Napa. 

But nothing beats what I see from my kitchen table here in Tucson.  Safford Peak and the Avra Valley beyond it.... hot air balloons in the early morning hours.... the pink and purple hues on Pusch Ridge as the sun colors the rocks... and the sunsets. Oh, my, the sunsets.  I have bobcats and mourning doves and bats and finches and coyotes but most of all I have space.  Endless miles of unbroken skies and mountain ranges that appear as the light allows and they all make my heart sing.

Being housebound is tough for an active girl .... the vistas from my big windows keep me sane.

(If I weren't so comfortable here on the couch I'd include photos to illustrate my point.  Unfortunately, the pictures live on the desktop's hard drive and I am typing to you on Nellie-the-Notebook.  Alas, just another little inconvenience arising from the fact that I got shot.  Sigh......)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Happy Birthday, George!

(Taking a break from the all-I've-been-shot-all-the-time-network today.  Big Cuter commented on my obsession, acknowledging that I write from the heart and that my heart is filled with "my condition" but wondering if I ever had any other thoughts at all.  Yes, kiddo, I do.  Here are some of them:)

279 years ago today Mary Ball Washington gave birth to a boy child. He went on to become a surveyor, a land owner, a distiller and, oh yes, the first President of the United States of America.  Unlike many of the stories surrounding this man (think cherry trees and coins across the Potomac and standing up in an open boat as it crossed the Delaware) this is an indisputable fact.  Mary was not in labor on the third Monday of February.  She produced her child on a specific day - the 22nd day of February.  His birthday didn't move around with the vagaries of the federal holiday calendar.

Nancy Hanks Lincoln met her second son, Abraham, 202 years ago on February 12.  Like Mrs. Washington before her, she was not in labor on an indeterminate day sometime in the middle of the month.  It occurred on a certain day,, a day formerly commemorated by school children and mail carriers alike. 

Alas and alack, these fine gentlemen have been conflated into Presidents and their birthdays combined into a generic celebration designed primarily to afford employees the opportunity for a 3-day weekend in the middle of the winter. What was wrong with the old system, I wonder?  As an elementary schoolkid I looked forward to those random days off in the middle of the month.  One day, breaking up the routine.  One celebration for each president - pennies examined on the 12th, leadership and lying (not) on the 22nd. 

There was no time for a weekend away (not that G'ma and Daddooooo could have afforded to take us anyplace anyhow) and there was no competition between students for who went the furthest and had the most fun.  It was an opportunity to go sledding at Bethpage (the Black Course was used for many things in my youth; this was the best of them) or to meet friends at the bowling alley and then walk to Smiles (our precursor to a 5-and-dime) where we cruised the aisles until our parents picked us up.  It was grilled cheese sandwiches with bacon on the side, eaten on paper plates and accompanied by the admonition Don't Tell Daddy since the bacon was not exactly kosher and he cared a lot more than did G'ma.  There were snow forts to be built, snowball fights to be fought, snow men to be built. The entire neighborhood roamed from front yard to front yard, creating and tumbling and finding warmth and drinks and the occasional bathroom in whichever house we happened to be in front of when the need arose.

And now?  Now President's Day is always an event.  It's a long weekend for which plans must be made.  It has no intrinsic meaning, no relationship to George or Abe or any of their colleagues.  Their faces are used to advertise white sales and car sales and furniture sales and The History Channel runs back to back episodes of The Presidents but that's about the size of the historical component.  What began as tributes to great men has devolved into spending opportunities for the masses.

Am I bitter?  You bet.  A day off followed by another one 10 days later.... what better way to combat the winter doldrums than that?  A random day, a day to cuddle under the blankets with your sweetie or to do all that laundry that interfered with your weekend plans and so still sits in the basket, mocking you.  A day to explore the neighborhood and have lunch in that place you've driven by 100 times before..... a day just to be.

Sometimes, when I was a girl really was better.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Time and Distance

Things look different when you're immobile.  For example:
  • Six weeks.... 42 days.... the time frame in which television begins advertising up-coming new programs..... the amount of time remaining in my non-weight-bearing status.  A month and a half isn't really that long, but from my perch here on Douglas it seems endless.  Little Cuter was trying to get me to focus on the fact that this is the downhill portion of recovery, that every day is one day closer to the end.  Of course she's right.  Of course that's good news.  Of course that's the way to think about it.  I just wish I could get away from
  • Six weeks.... 42 days.... the end of March..... the snowbirds will be packing up their rental condos and returning to their frozen tundras, the hikers will be looking for higher and less steamy climes in which to climb, and I will be able to walk down my block.  Maybe.  Unless it stays cool until then it will be too late to put in my tomatoes, and that's a loss I'll feel all spring and summer long.  Six more Sundays stuck on the couch watching young men play basketball and wishing that I could put on my own socks.  I try to regain the high road, keep my chin up, remind myself that I am here to see the sunrise, but all this sitting around is getting really old really fast.... or maybe not that fast, since it's been 6 weeks since evil visited my family.
  • Six weeks.... my birthday and Amster's birthday and the celebrations will be brought to me.  No dancing this year... not that there was ever any dancing... but there was always the possibility that there could be dancing.  TBG wants to buy me cowboy boots to replace the ones the FBI has decided are evidence in a federal crime but I have to wait until I can stand up and try them on.  Delay of gratification is one thing.... waiting a month to buy new boots is torture, pure and simple.
 That's time.  Then there's distance:
  • I am adept at hopping around with my walker.  I can get from the couch to the kitchen without a hitch.  Take me to the mall, though, and it's a totally different story.  TBG parked in the very first handicapped spot in front of Barnes and Noble and we walked to the stationary section, located right across the aisle from the check-out counter.  By the time I hit the exit doors I was exhausted, sweaty, and unable to hop another step.  It wasn't the length of a football field there and back, denizens, and I was defeated. I tried to laugh at myself, but I was too tired. 
  •  Ramps are wonderful inventions.  There's no need to take a deep breath and tell myself that I can jump up an 18" curb.  No one has to steady the brake-less walker so that it doesn't go flying away from me.  I don't butt heads with the stabilizing human as I make my leap from the lower level to the upper. Ramps obviate the need for all that.  But some ramps are steeper than others, and the very steep ones present their own challenges.  At the hair salon, at the Tea Room, at a sandwich shop I had to have someone walk in front of me, holding the walker so that it didn't take on a life of its own and slide down without me.  I'm trying to be brave, denizens, but sometimes the real world fights back.
  • The distance from my bed to the bathroom seems to grow in direct proportion to my needs.   The more I need it, the further it feels.  Getting back to sleep after trekking there and back presents its own set of problems, but that's irrelevant to distance and probably not all that interesting.  
Things are harder than they used to be, that's for sure.  The little things that make up activities of daily living assume larger than life status.  Carrying the glass of juice I managed to pour myself is just not happening.  The walker is useless for that particular task, and the wheelchair does not come with a cup holder.  Note to manufacturers: those who sit also like to drink.  Toting Nellie-the-Netbook from the kitchen to Douglas can only be accomplished in the wheelchair; the clanging of the machine against the sides of the walker if I put it in a bag and try to cover the distance .... it's just not a happy sound at all.  I've taken to using my bra as a tote bag; cell phones and stationary and letters and bananas and (unopened) cups of yogurt all manage to stay put as I hop around.  Self-sufficiency is often not very pretty, but it does make me smile.

Don't think that my life is all too far and too long, though. Friends have made the miles disappear as they fly to my side.  January 8th seems a life-time ago, and my hospital nightmare memories are rapidly slipping into the distant past.  High school and college classmates have collapsed the years as they've come back into my life with love and affection.  I'm watching the palo verdes begin to flesh out and take on a yellowish tinge, the first step toward blossoming.  The weatherman promises that this is the last cold spell we'll endure (cold being a relative term since Little Cuter and SIR have been relishing the 60's during their respite from Chicago's miserable winter this weekend) and I know that my days of moving from Douglas to the poolside are just around the corner.  We'll heat the pool and I'll move my physical therapy exercises into the water and my progress will begin to impress the person I most want to be pleased : myself.

I am living each and every minute of each and every day.  I am conscious of the fact that I am here to notice the changes in the clouds and the setting of the sun.  I no longer find myself wondering where the afternoon has gone; I've experienced the minutes ticking by one by one.  Sometimes it's dreadfully slow, but mostly it's blissfully present.  Though it hurts to breathe (a bullet separating your lung from your chest wall will have that effect, it seems) it doesn't hurt all the time.  Those moments of peace, of respite from the healing pains which annoy me as they reassure me, those are the times that bring a smile to my face.

And smiles are very very good things.... even if they are separated by distance and time, one from the other.

Friday, February 18, 2011

How Am I ?

BlogHer wants to know.  My sister wants to know.  Friends from college who disappeared from my life in 1973 want to know.  Frankly, I want to know, too.

It's an interesting question from many perspectives.  Physically, I am healing at a rate that amazes my physical therapist and my orthopedist and the ER doctors I met last Sunday.  The exit wound on my thigh has healed with healthy flesh; it was so deep the trauma docs were convinced that it would "necrotize"... and let's not go there, okay? My shattered hip is less painful everyday, and those (somewhat neater) scars are clearing up as well.   I have scars from incisions made to examine all my organs, and they are calming down, too.  I'm supposed to be rubbing creams on them to reduce the ugliness, but that would entail looking at them and I'm not up to that yet. 

I have mastered the art of showering without observing what I'm washing.  I am adept at dressing without noticing the hole in my breast.  I've convinced myself that the little entry wound which creeps out beneath the hem of my shorts is just another little boo-boo I picked up in my travels.  My friends say that I look terrific and I choose to believe them.  So, on that level, I am fine.

There's the whole Christina-Taylor piece which may never be fine.  She was a big part of our lives and she's not here anymore.  Her mom and I were discussing the fact that the perfect person to do the late afternoon SuziSitting, the keeping-me-company-while-TBG-goes-to-the-gym part of my life, the one who would enjoy it the most and think that the $1/day she earned was riches beyond compare, that person would be Christina.  I imagine her fluffing my pillows and bringing me sparkling water and tending to my indoor flora and running to the mailbox and the refrigerator and I sigh.  Sometimes I cry, but mostly I sigh.  People say that everything happens for a reason, but no one can convince me that there is a reason for a dead 9 year old.  Don't even try.  In this area, I'm not so fine.

I am slow, very very slow.  Getting up from my throne on Douglas is a major effort.  Will my quadriceps cooperate or will I be grimacing in pain as I sit up and move my right leg off the pillow on which it rests, elevated, support under my kneecap to keep it from hyperextension..... the list goes on and on and on.  Will the scar down the middle of my chest, my seam, bifurcating me, defining with raw clarity the mid-line of my self, will the wound decide that moving should hurt or will it let me push myself up with reckless abandon?  A day or so ago I found myself upright in the wheelchair with no memory of moving there at all.  TBG hadn't noticed it either, but there I was, ready to go.  Then, last night, I was immobile, permanently attached to the cushions beneath me, with no hope of moving on my own.  None.  Not at all.

TBG comes in very handy at moments like these.

I was a hiker, a walker, a gym rat, a yogini, a gardener,,,,, and now I am told not to compare myself to who I was before.  Easy for you to say...... exactly what, then, should I use as a yardstick?  Should I try to be upright, using my erector spinae to maintain excellent posture or should I curve forward, into the cradle of the walker, to counteract the backward falling motion inherent in hopping?  Am I better served by listening to my mother and standing up straight or should I follow the PT's advice and stay safe?  Do I embrace the role of patient, and have patience and take care, or should I re-discover the person who plunged on ahead, paying no attention at all to what might lie in store for her, one who notices the adventure and chances the consequences?

And that's where I end up whenever I confront myself with this kind of questioning.  I am neither the old me nor this version of the new me.  This is temporary, a physical anomaly that will pass.  When I worked at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago I became aware that those using wheelchairs to get around the campus referred to those of us who were self-locomoting as TAB......Temporarily Able Bodied.  That resonates in a big way with me right now. 

I am extremely conscious of my presentation to the world.  I don't leave the house with the wheelchair.  Reason #1 is that it really doesn't fit in any of our cars without major reorganization and seat shifting, but the truer reason is that I don't want Tucson to see me sitting down.  I want to greet my town face to face, even if I have to hang on to a metal contraption with wheels to do so.  When strangers run out of stores to tell me how happy they are to see me up and around, I want them to see me actually up and around.  I don't want to be pushed, I want to get there on my own.  I am tired of being viewed as a victim.

There are many funds set up to help those involved in this event.  Tragedy in Tucson; Tucson Victims' Fund...... the thoughtfulness is overwhelming, but the names just make me sad.  I'm connected to the Office of Victim Assistance and the Victim Compensation Program and the County Attorney's Victims' Services office.  I've never wanted to be defined as a victim, as someone who has relinquished control and allowed something to happen to her.  I like being in charge - just ask the resident who had to fight me off as I was helping her insert my chest tube.  Little Cuter had to take my face in her hands and "MOM....MOM....Marcie went to medical school and you did not...let her do her job" made me relax enough so that a stranger could poke a tube into a hole in my side.  MY side.

How has this happened to me?  How did a sunny Saturday morning turn into a disaster beyond anything I ever could have imagined?  I don't think that the community college or the mental health system or the justice system could have prevented this.  I think that efforts to ascribe malicious motives to systems or individuals who shoulda/coulda done something are nothing more than attempts to make sense of a senseless act.  Like closing the barn door after the horse has run off, arguments over whether policies and procedures were adequate and will be adequate or are or were woefully wanting are not helpful.  I am not fine with anger and hostility and vengeance and blame.  Tucson deserves better than that.  I deserve better than that.

Knowing that fact keeps me out of the doldrums and focused forward.  I have had amazing opportunities and I know that there are many more to come.  My project on inter-generational mentoring is moving ahead nicely; I hope to reveal it when I can stand on my own two feet.  I am surrounded by family and friends and neighbors and public servants who want nothing more than to make me happy.  Food is delivered and rooms are re-arranged and schedules are altered to accommodate  me.  I've had lunch with Billy Collins and I've met Juan.  I've discussed George Bush with Brian Williams.  My girlfriends have flown in from North Carolina and Alabama and Illinois and Arkansas and Florida and they have chauffeurred and done laundry and waited as I hopped toward our destination and I've felt as though I were the one doing them the favors.  I am surrounded by love.

The sun comes up every morning and I am here to see it.  That makes it a good day.... every day.

That's how I am - I am here.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Memorial Bracelets

Megan. among others, has inquired about purchasing one of the white "Remember 1-8-11" bracelets that I was wearing on tv last night (and which I've been wearing since they were first created.) 

The Student Government at Ironwood Ridge High School (another triumph for my local school district!) is selling them.  The website can be reached by CLICKING HERE.

For convenience sake, I'll save you the trouble of clicking through by including the contact information here:
(520) 407-4270 or sburgin@amphi.com

The bracelets are $1.50 if you want them mailed to you.  
Send checks made out to IRHS Student Government to:

Ironwood Ridge High School
Attn: Samantha Burgin
2475 W Naranja Rd.
Tucson, AZ 85742

The students are donating proceeds to the victims' assistance funds.

Don't Wear Dangling Earrings on TV

For those of you who want to see it and missed it last night, HERE is the link to the interview with Juan and his classmates which ran on Katie Couric's newscast Wednesday night.

Thanks, Roomie, for finding it.  It takes a village to raise a child, and, apparently, to create a truly interactive blog as well.

A "real post" will follow later today; I will not hide behind my injuries and think that this might be an adequate substitute.  I have too much respect for my denizens to do that!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Perfect Afternoon

I've been hugged by POTUS and FLOTUS.  I've chatted about New Jersey with Brian Williams.  The Director of the FBI sent me a hand written "glad you're out of the hospital" note.  Strangers, visitors from Minnesota and Montana, shake my hand and wish me well in restaurants.  I've received crocheted comfort shawls and a Native American healing blanket and a hand-made quilt.

Each and every one of those things has been wonderful and has filled my heart with love and joy.  But yesterday afternoon I was in the presence of a superstar, and I'm still aglow.  Listen.......

Linda Solomon is an author and a photo-journalist.  She called the house ten days ago and charmed TBG with her enthusiasm and compassion.  He thought I'd be interested in her project, and passed the handset to my outstretched arm.  That was the only part of me which was out; the rest was snuggled under the aforementioned quilt, trying to avoid thinking about what had happened to me.  I was in a leave me alone kind of space, but TBG had a smile on his face and I just can't resist that.  Sure, I'll take the phone.

Linda was fast and furious and full of details and data and thoughts and love and she really really wanted me to judge a kids' photo contest.  She'd given disposable cameras to a group of 9 and 10 year olds at a local elementary school.  She'd invited a group of Tucsonans to review the pictures and choose the ones we liked the most.  Was I interested in joining them?

I'm not sure how being shot qualifies me to be a photography critic, but she was relentless and really didn't want to take no for an answer.  So I committed myself to 90 minutes on a Tuesday afternoon at a school several miles from my couch. Then, I went back to sleep.

Yesterday was that Tuesday.  I dressed for the occasion, wearing blue since Linda had said that there would be photographers and blue is the preferred color for that medium.  (Ah, denizens, the things I've learned since January 8th...) TBG spent the morning in the dentist's chair so Amster picked me up and took me to the appointment while he nursed his swollen jaw.  (If it's not one thing, it's another....)  The sun was out and her mom-mobile-mini-van feels safe and secure and she's a good driver so the world felt like an okay place to be.  We had pizza outside (it's in the 70's here in Tucson.... why do you all live in such cccccold places?)  and bought and delivered fancy cupcakes to a knee-replaced friend and for a while it felt like a normal day.  The knot in my heart loosened just a touch.  I was in the world and of the world and I wasn't scared at all.  There's something to be said for the healing power of friends.

We found the school and Amster held the doors as I hopped in with my walker.  All those bar dips are coming in handy as distances seem to magnify themselves before my very eyes.  Twenty feet are twenty dips; my triceps are looking quite healthy these days.

The school's grounds were immaculate. There was not a scrap of litter on the ground nor a bit of graffiti on the walls. The signage was bright and cheery, welcoming and encouraging.  It looked like a good place to learn.  The lobby was filled with students and grown ups and there was Ben Tracey, the CBS West Coast reporter who'd been in my living room last month  Of all the reporters who'd traipsed through our lives, he was the kindest and gentlest.  Seeing him made me smile and then stop to think : this was obviously more than judging a kids' art project.  Linda had created an event.  I was glad I had taken the time to mousse my hair.

Jeannette Mare, Executive Director of Ben's Bells, shook my hand.  Ben's Bells defines Tucson's spirit for me - born out of sorrow, it extols kindness and community and has truly made lemonade out of lemons.  Beautiful Anne brought me a bell in the hospital and it hangs by the fireplace in front of me as I'm typing to you now.  It warms my heart and fills my soul.  I was honored to be a judge along side her.  Kristi Tedesco, our local NBC news anchor and a Tucsonan through and through was there, too.  She'd touched me with her thoughtful interview in my living room soon after I was discharged; she understood my connection to Christina-Taylor and shared my sorrow.  I felt better after talking to her then, and I was happy to see her in the plastic chair next to me yesterday.  I'm always surprised by the fact that the people on tv are just regular folks; in her jeans and sweater she was just another mom doing something fun in the afternoon.  I took a deep breath and relaxed into my chair.

The small conference room was filled with microphones and lights and cameras and all the humans who are attached to creating a televised news report.  By now, I'm aware of the drill - drop the cord of the mic down the front of my sweater, clip the little box to the edge of the chair or my waistband, look at the interlocutor and not the camera - and I even recognized some of the players.  Ashleigh's gone big time, folks!

Linda had culled the pictures and selected two or three from each child for us to judge.  Our mission was to find the photos which best represented that child's Hope for America.  The pictures we selected would be made into greeting cards, with the child's hope inscribed.  (I'll be sure to let you all know about them once they are created..... no worries there, denizens!)  The videographers focused in on the snapshots as Linda read us the hopes - no more war, help sick people, help homeless people and jobless people, end animal cruelty, feed the hungry, send everyone to college..... so much to do.... and they are only 9 and 10.

There were shots of the schoolyard and of hands gripped in friendship and tributes to Gabby Giffords and trees and blue skies and puppies.  Flash reflections off glass cases covering hallway artwork didn't mar the impact of their visions.  These children were making statements.  They were working with film, not digital images, and so they had to be judicious in what they chose to shoot.  Some were perfectly framed and some were out of focus but all of them had meaning.  There were quite a few teary eyes around the judges' table.

This is not a magnet school.  There is no admissions test or interview required to attend Prince Elementary School.  Native Arizonans and resettled refugees and immigrants from all over the world learn together at this No Excuses University where the halls are decorated with banners from colleges and universities and where every student is college bound.  High expectations and lots of love combined with the pride inherent in doing a good job - I'd stumbled upon an oasis of excellence in the middle of my school district.  My public school district, to which TBG and I dutifully pay our taxes every year.  I was feeling pretty good.  The assistant principal was one of the judges; she knew each and every photographer's story, and shared them with discretion and a smile.  It was easy to see that she liked her work.  No wonder.  The results were evident on the friendly faces in the hallway and the pride of place in the building itself.  This school is a gem.

Just when we thought it couldn't get any better, Linda shared Juan's photographs.  Instead of just 2 or 3 pictures, Linda gave us all the photos that Juan had taken.  We grown-ups grew silent as we passed the shots around.  Perfectly framed.  Elegantly composed.  Thoughtfully constructed.  We were awestruck.  Jeannette wants the one of his graffiti damaged mailbox for her office wall.  I couldn't stop looking at the blue sky, the palm tree, and the defaced 25mph sign.  Without formal instruction, Juan had mastered the photographer's rule of 3's; the composition told the story as much as the objects themselves.  We just couldn't decide which one to choose.  We spent almost 15 minutes looking and wiping tears and shaking our heads.  Who was this kid?

When the door opened towards the end of our session a little boy entered shyly.  This was Juan.  THIS is Juan? we said in one voice.  Our smiles and dancing eyes were overwhelming him; who were these grown-ups, after all?  I asked if I could shake his hand, and told him about the 15 minutes we had spent admiring his work.  "You looked at my pictures for 15 minutes?"  Yes, we did.  He stood there and shook his head.  He was stunned.

He watched the final minutes of the judging, saw the other judges leave the room, all of us exchanging cards and hugs and smiles and promises to keep in touch, and then it was Kristi and Ben and Juan and me (and, of course, the camera and sound people and the producers), ready for our interview.

"Have you ever been on tv before?" I asked Juan?  He smiled a little smile and shook his head.  "Well, here's the drill.... do all your scratching and rubbing and sniffling before they turn on the cameras. Keep your hands in your lap and away from your mouth; your mom will want to see all of that handsome face so don't cover it up.  Can we have a drink of water for Juan, please?  He doesn't want to cough on camera."   The look on Juan's face when the adults all raced for a drink for him was priceless - he was important enough to make grown ups jump.  It was amazing and surprising and pleasing; it made me happy to be a part of it all 

Kristi Tedesco is a wonder - she knelt on the other side of the table, looked Juan straight in the eye, and asked him serious questions in a kid-friendly voice.  "Respell your name for me, please" became a request between peers rather than an order from an older.  I was in awe.  But that was nothing to what came after.  "Do you know what you want to be when you grow up?"...... that question that everyone asks and no one can really answer.  No one but Juan, that is.  This 9 year old, this child, this wonderful human being looked straight back at Kristi and said "No, I don't think that far ahead.  If I do, I might get scared because it's far away and I might not reach my goals.  So I concentrate on today and doing well right now because then I will be ready for my future."  I may not have gotten it exactly right, but I'm sure I'm pretty close.  No one spoke after he finished his answer.  The air was filled with awe.

Who is this child?

He is everyone's child.  He's the kid you want to nurture and support and cherish.  He knows that role models are few and far between, and often aren't those you love the most.  He told that to the camera and we all knew that he was speaking from his heart.  He exists in the moment, and his moment is filled with anxiety and uncertainty and a sense of unease; graffiti on his mailbox makes him feel that people have tampered "with my personal private place and I don't like it at all.... it makes me frightened and feel unsafe."  I'd like to find the tagger and read him that sentence over and over and over again... for days....weeks....months...years...... until he recognized that his one random act had impacted the life of this beautiful, talented, special little boy.

Juan is only 9 years old.  His future includes college and family and lots of love.  For now, though, he shares his perspective with his peers and his teachers and with a few of us lucky enough to have been in the room with him yesterday.  He impressed us, one and all.

But the story isn't over, yet.  Juan took a seat in the corner of the room while Ben and I chatted (the interview is supposed to be on Katie Couric's Nightly News tonight) about the photographs and Christina's hopes for the world and then the professionals began to clean up their mess and it occurred to me that I'd never introduced myself to Juan.

"Do you know why I was interviewed just now?  Do you know who I am?"  

"No, I don't"

"Do you remember that there was a shooting last month at a Safeway?  (he nodded yes) I am the lady who took Christina to meet her Congresswoman and....."

and before I could say anything more he was up from his chair, staring at my face, and saying "YOU are a special person... you are a very special person."

And then he walked through the wires with the most purposeful look on his face and he hugged me.

He patted my back as I bawled like a baby and he hugged me tighter.

There wasn't a dry eye in the room.

Who is this kid?  He is all of us and all of ours and everything Christina-Taylor saw in America exists in his little self.

It was a wonderful wonderful wonderful day.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Impossibility of Television

There is nothing I can watch any more.

I lie on the couch, unable to concentrate on anything longer than a Billy Collins poem.  Novels are beyond my abilities.  Where once I was able to drift along with the story line, becoming the characters, feeling their slippery shoes on an icy path, now my mind begins to wander before I turn the first page.  Sometimes I just drift into a nothing-ness of hikes gone by, flowers photographed up close and personal, road trips with the Cuters.  Sometimes I wind up in a much darker space.  Either way, neither way is conducive to finishing something longer than a page and a half. Long blog posts are beyond me as well.  Anything which requires thinking is a major stretch.

There is music all around me.  Friends and teachers and strangers and relatives have sent cd's created just especially for me.  For weeks, they sat stacked one atop the other near the stereo (how dated is that?!) blending their mixes one to another.  TBG grew tired of the clutter and moved them somewhere.  I don't know where and it really doesn't matter.  Unless I was using a quiet one to help me drift off to nap-time, I was unable to go with their flow.  My mind took me places I didn't want to go.  I needed something more active.

Active is a relative term when your orthopedist forbids bearing any weight on the hip he so graciously allowed you to take home from the hospital.  Twelve weeks from the date of the surgery.... a day sometime during the week after January 8th.  My family knows precisely when it happened, but, for me, it's all a morphine blur.  I woke up and I was repaired and I hurt and I couldn't move my leg.  Now I can actually make my knee bend without a helping hand, and KiKi, the world's most wonderful physical therapist, assures me that soon I will be able to roll over without pain.  Ah, the little things that make life grand.  For now, though, active is my fingers flying over the keyboard and my bar-dips on the walker as I hop from couch to table to car.  It's a far cry from hiking Brown Mountain, but I am not complaining.  I am here and I am healing and those are good things.  Wonderful things.  Things for which I am grateful each and every day.  But they are not real distractions, at least not for long.

So, I am left with the television.  Daddooooo watched more tv after his hip replacement than he had in his entire existence previous to that surgery.  Daytime tv was new to me, and I would sit by his side on the living room couch, watching talk shows and wondering why anyone who didn't have to look at them would voluntarily do so.  Once the 4pm movie came on we were happier, but my memories of his recovery are of the two of being snarky at a non-responsive Motorola console.  Lying on the couch, recovering myself, I laugh.  Things aren't much better 40 some years later. 

But I am not writing to complain about the paucity of terrific television.  My issue is much more personal than that.  TV is scary these days.  Grey's Anatomy and House, two of the pillars of our viewing habits prior to January 8th, are un-watchable.  IV's, bloody organs, scalpels slicing into flesh.... they are all too real for us.  The Bride tried to watch Grey's three times on her laptop while she was staying with me in the hospital; I never saw her get as far as the first commercial.  TBG has never liked the blood and gore parts, and routinely covered his eyes when the patient was rolled into the operating room.  It never bothered me.  Not one bit.  I found it interesting in an impersonal kind of way.  Now, though...........  it is much too personal, much too close to home, much too been there done that to be allowed into our living room.  Scratch 2 hours of new shows and endless hours of repeats from my schedule.

Law'n Order is broadcast every hour of every day on one of the 1000's of channels on our super-duper-deluxe-cable package.  It used to be that I could watch an episode for the 15th time and enjoy the familiarity.  Lenny, Lupo, Cragin, Chris Noth, Mariska Hargitay (did you know that her mother was Jayne Mansfield and that she was in the back seat of the car when the decapitation occurred?  Just a bit of gory trivia for you to round out this post.) ...... they made me happy in a comfortable, old shoe kind of way.  Now, though....... the bullets fly and I flinch.  The Medical Examiner discusses entry and exit wounds (this is even hard to type) and I cower.  We have given it up entirely. 

So here I was, bored to tears, Heidi in a plane on her way back to the frigid north, all caught up on my thank you notes and phone calls, sitting on the couch and looking for amusement.  Chuck!  I am one episode behind.  The series is OnDemand.  It's 44 minutes of meaningless fluff that amuses without taxing the brain.  I could reach the remote with the handy grabby-dabber the occupational therapist left with me in the hospital.  Life was good. 

That is, until the opening scene devolved into the credits, which feature a bright red bullet zipping across the screen as the actors and directors and producers were named .  I'd never noticed it til right now.  I didn't like it.  Nope, didn't like it one little bit.  Didn't like it so much that I turned off the tube and came right here to The Burrow where such things are just not allowed. 

We are a weapon-free zone, visually and mentally.  We concentrate on healing and looking forward and on the strange and unusual things that make up our polity and our families and our day to day routine.  No guns .... no blood ... nope, not here.

Thanks, denizens, for joining me in my safe haven.  I love snuggling down with you, one and all.

Monday, February 14, 2011

An Update on My Leg

Apparently Little Cuter was not alone in wondering what the story is with my leg. 

Short answer - no one knows.

Long answer - I changed clothes after lunch at Tohono Chul Tea Room with Heidi and noticed splotchy red rashiness and swelling of my wounds and lots of heat in the thigh.  Nothing above or below the thigh, but the front of the thigh itself was interesting enough to warrant a call to the Home Care nurse.... who apparently doesn't exist on Sundays. Heidi said to call the ER and they told me to drive down.  TBG was out enjoying a carefree day..... well, I took care of that quickly enough :(

After quickly being triaged, we waited in the ER until I couldn't sit any longer and promoted myself into a space with a bed and doctors.  By that time - 2 hours after I first noticed it - there was nothing left but a small red line .  The ER docs were baffled.  They probed and pushed and prodded and nodded and finally said that maybe it was vascular (but then it probably wouldn't have resolved that quickly) or maybe it was allergies (TBG wondered if I'd starched just the right leg of my trousers) but they were able to agree that they had no idea and that I shouldn't worry.

Everyone agreed that it was a good thing that I'd come in... everyone but TBG who didn't like being in the waiting room again AT ALL.  The fact that the court case against He Who Should Be Slapped was all over the news on the wall tv's as we sat there didn't help at all.  Not one bit. 

I was discharged with instructions to "Keep doing what you've been doing.  Your leg looks very healthy now" and Heidi drove (slowly) home where foodstuffs and paperbacks were waiting by the front door.

Thanks for the concern, denizens.... and for the love.  Try not to worry about me; I'm doing just fine.

The Healing Power of Friends

Christina's mom sent me a message on Facebook this morning.  Chatty, news-filled, information sharing and lovely, it put a giant smile on my face which caused water to drip out the corner of my mouth as I was drinking.  Note to self : stop smiling before drinking.  But the dribs and drabs on my t-shirt are nothing but reminders of her caring nature and the strength of our friendship; there's not a bit of rancor in the 6 paragraphs she found the time and energy to type.  There are many remarkable people in this world; she and her husband are at the top of my list these days.

My wounded leg decided to become rashy and swollen and hot yesterday afternoon, and my current SuziSitter. Heidi, knew that I should call the ER and check it out.  "Come on down" was their recommendation so we piled into the car, called TBG and told him to meet us there, and off we went.  She's used to driving in upstate New York where, apparently, there are no other cars on the road and those that are there are going even more slowly than she is.  But, over the week she's been here, she's progressed from driving like my grandmother to driving like a snowbird and she's much more comfortable changing lanes and turning left across 4 lanes of traffic.  We were at the ER/Trauma Center in no time.  She rubbed my arm and spoke in calm and soothing tones, masking her distaste for driving in our "big city" all the while.  When the wait to be seen began to take its toll on my achy hip and leg, she was right there, glaring at the desk clerk who couldn't seem to get her head around the fact that I was in agony and could not sit for one more minute.  Luckily, one of the Emergency Room doctors recognized me ("You look much better than last time I saw you!") and we were ushered into a room within seconds.  All the while, Heidi was there, tending to TBG's discomfort at revisiting the waiting room and monitoring my leg and my emotions.  We've been friends for 41 years; she's as wonderful now as she was back in Ithaca. 

The weekend got even better, friendship-wise.  MTF is dealing with yet another horrific tragedy, cleaning up the mess of another person's life with kindness and thoughtfulness and a dedication to detail that puts her in an elite class of humans.  There were scraps of paper and emotional detritus strewn all over a landscape of crumminess and yet there she was, purposeful and organized and doing what needed to be done.  The fact that she was surrounded by fools and incompetents just made her work harder; what needed to be done was done, and she still took the time to send me an upbeat email describing the scene and wondering about my well-being.  She's a keeper, that's for sure.

My newest friend in the neighborhood, JenniJazz, dropped off pasta last night, and brought her handsome husband to meet mine.  I love women who take the initiative and make things happen - she's brought me lunch and stayed just long enough, she sat with me early one Sunday morning so TBG could make an airport run, she's told me funny stories and shared her perspective on my burgeoning spirituality and through it all she's never been more intrusive than my walls have allowed.  Tragedy has brought many things to my doorstep; her friendship is one of the most wonderful ones.

And then there was the knock on the door this morning - a friend of a friend delivering a Valentine's Day balloon and a hand inscribed heart cookie with my name in white frosting.  I don't know her and she didn't know me, yet there she was, bringing goodies filled with love.  She asked for a hug and how could I refuse?  I'm not sure what kind of special power my hugs have, but lots of people are asking for them lately.  It seems the least I can do to say yes.

Valentine's Day is one of those holidays which carry high expectations and leave dashed hopes in their wake.  People need to have a date .... people hide in their apartments, avoiding the whole scene ... people spend too much money on dinners and jewelry .... there's a pressure to feel the love that is overwhelming and somewhat tacky to my eye.  For many years, TBG wrote me a poem on Valentine's Day, recapping our year and pledging fealty and love.  Once we moved to Tucson, that tradition was replaced by a trip to J Gilbert where cowboy boots were purchased.  This year, my non-weight-bearing self can't try on the works of art in which one walks and poetry is beyond anyone's capabilities.  Instead, we'll sit on Douglas, the world's 2nd most comfortable couch*, and recognize the fact that we are alive, watching the sunshine and the blue skies and each other.

He's my bestest friend, my most intense friend, and I'm glad that he is here.


*Not-Kathy reminded me that there was a more comfortable couch in my life once before.  It's a good prompt for a post and the story will be told soon.  For now, I had to amend Douglas's appellation for the sake of accuracy.... Not-Kathy is a good friend, too, and I can't run the risk of annoying her.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Consumer's Triumph

It's amazing what a short sentence in a personal blog can accomplish these days.

The Scene: Sitting at my desk (yes! sitting! in a chair! progress is being made!) yesterday morning, watching a coyote rub himself on something scrumptious in the middle of the road and feeling calm and comfortable for the first time in a long time.  No one else in the house - TBG having decided that I can be left alone for an hour while he goes to the gym - and feeling no pain.  Life was stable and almost good.

Then the phone rang.  I wasn't in the mood to be disturbed but I'm incapable of ignoring the pleading ringing.  Caller ID is my new best friend; I'm never surprised. 

CHASE was staring at me from the window.  Hmmmmmm....... what now? Had I missed another payment?  Was there another problem?  Semi-aggravated, I picked up the receiver and said hello.

Christine identified herself as a manager.  My anxiety began to rise; I must have done something really wrong this time.  But no, the more I listened the broader my smile became.  "Chase management had become aware of my situation" ..... someone on their staff is monitoring social media, it seems.  My comment in Wednesday's post , even without a label to alert them, had been found.  Management is aware.... this was sounding interesting.

Unusually for me, I didn't interrupt her.  I just let her talk.  They had reviewed the situation.  They had listened to the calls.  They were sorry.  They regretted the inconvenience and the unhappiness they had caused.  They were sorry that I was given bad information because I rely upon the company to tell me the truth and to be prompt in its responses.  They were apologetic that an agent had given me mis-information and they wanted me to know that steps were being taken to rectify the situation.

At that point I had to say something.  The lovely woman I spoke to first had, obviously, told me that the card would be available when in fact it wouldn't ... but she was kind and sympathetic and just a little teary and she raced around trying to solve the problem just as fast as she could.  The fact that she had mis-read a clock, or a protocol, was not behind my anger with the company.  She was wonderful, everyone makes mistakes, but her attitude was so thoughtful and filled with love that I had to insure that nothing untoward would happen to her,  It was the manager I spoke with the next day, the one who told me that my sad story was nothing more than a sad story and that there was no one else with whom I could speak, it was with her that my problems arose.

Christine understood.  She heard me.  She listened. She shared "upper management's concerns" that I be treated well, just as all their customers should be treated well.  They were so sorry to have added to my  burden, to have embarrassed my husband, to have put any stumbling blocks in my road to recovery.

And then there was the fun part.  "We'd like to offer you...." was how the sentence began and suddenly the interest charges and the late fees had vanished from the account.  A VISA gift card is on its way to my house.  Christine's business card with all her contact information was on its way, too, and if I ever have any problems of any kind with my account she is my go-to-girl.

Well, denizens, what can I say?  They searched me out and found the problem and I have this fabulous image of senior management sitting around a table wondering and pondering and furrowing their brows, all worrying about poor me and my credit card.  They managed to figure out that Ashleigh and Suzi are one and the same (one wonders how) and they chose the perfect person to convey their regrets and their solutions.  Christine was confident and concerned and connected to my pain; a young mother herself she was able to relate to Christina-Taylor and the day we had planned as if it had happened to her. She understood that I was insulted, she understood that her firm had made a mistake, and she seemed to be personally affronted that a Chase employee had mistreated me. 

I just kept going back to the image of the upper management of the bank spending the day worrying about what The Burrow was going to do next.  I liked the picture.  A lot.

So, I am going to keep paying my bills through the Chase VISA card.  Christine convinced me that they want to be my bank, and I cannot deny that this counts as extremely wonderful customer service.  I'll be using that Amex every once in a while, but it's nice to know that the number I've memorized for my VISA card does not have to be relegated to the trash bin.

If you haven't cut up your cards yet, why not hold off for a while.  And if you have any problems, let me know.  I'll see what Christine can do for you, too.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Does This Make Sense?

I am alive... and my friends' 9 year old is not.

I am achy and shattered and unable to get comfortable on Douglas, the world's most comfortable couch.

Friends and neighbors have brought us dinners and salads and desserts, and none of them have been chocolate.

There are no degrees at all in Chicago as Little Cuter waits for her bus in the gloom.

Big Cuter has a broken foot, TBG can't shake his cold, and I am perforated.

The sun comes up every morning and I am here to see it.... from a wheelchair, through a window, frightened to take the walker and cruise the backyard.

My bookshelves are full, JES has sent me an Amazon gift card, the library is around the corner and I cannot concentrate on anything longer than Dear Abby.

Billy Collins read a poem just for me, his fiancee commented in The Burrow, and I cannot come up with anything but whining and complaining and wondering to share with you.

Does it make any sense?  Not really.  Is it my reality?  Absolutely.  Can I alter any of it?  Perhaps. 

What do I know for sure?  I am surrounded by the most wonderful friends and family, strangers and acquaintances, organizations and emailers and letter writers and card senders and commenters and old friends who check in by phone. And I know that with that much support, with all this encouragement and enthusiasm, with the help of those who love me, things will, once again, begin to make sense.

For now, I stack my days one upon the other, tea cup on saucer, trying not to make a clink.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Strangeness

So much good... so much evil... so much confusion.  It's hard to sort it out.

For example:
  • The nurse who told me that I wouldn't become addicted to the hydrocodone or the oxycodone the doctor preferred that I take over the ibuprofen because "You are too strong a person to allow that to happen.  You are motivated."  Is she the last person on the planet to understand that addiction is a disease and not something you choose?  Narcotics over analgesics...... strange.
  • The restaurant which places the handicapped spots in the corner of the parking lot.... and puts the only curb cuts there, too.  Dropped off at the front door, my walker and I were confronted with an 18" high curb..... and blustery winds.... and the fear was tremendous.  Architecturally strange.
  • The hospital bedside commode that accommodates patients who are 5'3" or taller.  The rest of us have our feet dangling, vainly searching for the comfort of the floor.   
  • The young man delivering two heavy boxes of foodstuffs from the up-scale grocery store who refused to take a tip - "Not from that woman!"  Hearwarmingly strange.
  • Keith, the representative from Verizon's sales department, who stayed on the phone with me as I was transferred, like the blip on Atari's Pong screen, from Customer Care (now there is an oxymoron) to Sales and back again, over and over and over.  No one seemed to understand nor have the authority to solve nor the willingness to listen to my problem but Keith, who works on commission and was making nothing by keeping me company, Keith stayed on one leg of the various conference calls for nearly an hour.  Handing me off to Cameron (who did manage to solve the problem) he said goodbye by thanking me for allowing him to learn about the systems in his new job.  Delightfully strange.
  • Marilyn, my hiking buddy and personal shopper, who has made countless trips back and forth to the mall, selecting and sizing and putting together an outfit which would not constrict my sutures, which would be short enough so that I could stand up and not trip, which matched the earrings and bracelet I've been wearing like totems since I've been home, and who shared her personal history of loss and illness with a calm survivor's mien.  Not strange..... just wonderful.
  • A casual acquaintance, a lunch partner from an alumni event, who offered to stop by and talk about God with this cynical heathen.  The Reverend Barb is one of the good ones; I really hope she has an answer or two for me this afternoon.  Strange?  Certainly.  Wonderful? Absolutely!
  • The credit card company (okay, Chase Visa for those of you who might want to reconsider using them) which refused to release the hold they'd placed on my account because I had missed a payment.  The fact that I was lying in a hospital bed, perforated and drugged, when the payment was due made no difference to them.  The fact that it was the only card in TBG's wallet, the fact that we'd never missed a payment before, the fact that the entire world knew what had happened to me..... "Yes, ma'am, it is a sad story but there is nothing I can do."  Strange?  Oh, yes.  Solvable?  Definitely.... the card is in pieces and our new Costco Amex account will fill the bill nicely, thank you very much.  (be sure to read Chase VISA's response by clicking here.  Sometimes companies do "get it")
  • Counselors who don't return phone calls.  Paperwork that is submitted but remains unacknowledged.  Officials who show up unannounced at the door and expect to be welcomed with open arms.  TV news producers who are surprised when their every wish is not gladly accommodated.   Reporters who want to sit on my couch and watch the State of the Union with me.  Strange.... for sure.  Unexpected?  Not really.
  • Four page handwritten notes from total strangers.  A lengthy message on my answering machine from Slava in Latvia, including his phone number so that I could "return this call and continue this conversation."  Raggedy Ann dolls and crocheted angels and Texas blue bells....... does anyone want these outpourings of love?  I know that they come from the hearts of those who are trying to help, but how much of my house can become a shrine to the worst moment of my life?  Balancing their needs against my defenses.... strange indeed.
  • And then there is the blogosphere, where The Burrow has 97 followers.  97 of you demanding that the interweb send you my ramblings every weekday.  On January 7th there were 12 of you - family and friends and Nance - and now there are 97 faithful readers.  Strange and wonderful, all at once.
With apologies for the lateness of this post today (sometimes I am just too tired to type), I thank you all for sharing this peek into the strangeness that has become my life.   It's nice to know that I am not alone.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Love Note from My Little Brother

Brother was the latest in a series of marvelous SuziSitters who have come from far and wide to insure my safety and comfort.  The man hates to fly, never flies, G'ma even remembers that he doesn't fly, but bullet holes in his sister trumped his phobia and he allowed the FBI Victim's Compensation Fund to pay for his air travel.  He spent a week fixing and toting and caring and laughing.  He flew home through Dallas, which airport opened just so that he could make his connection to his girls back in Maryland.  After 5 days of home repairs and buttering toast all the way to the edges and filling G'ma's bowl with Kisses, he sent me this in an email.

Read on...... I think you'll see why I am the luckiest sibling in the world.

What I Learned This Week:

That getting perforated and filleted hurts.  A lot. 

That some nurses are much better than others.
 
That it is good to have “Chief” on your doctor’s name tag.

That you should write thank you notes to everybody.

That after imagining all the cruel and unusual and medically useful things you could do with a  madman, you still, afterwards, have to live with yourself.

That PTSD treatment is helpful for some things and not others.

That exit wounds are uglier than entry wounds.

That nerves regenerate and it is scary to watch..

That cardio exercise, weight bearing exercise, yoga and Pilates can save your life

That scissors are in Aisle 5.

That if you ask for help, people will.

That even the most patient loving person I know has limits.

That it hurts when you reach those limits with your mom.

That even in your 6th decade, you need your mommy.

That some things make no sense.

That it hurts to lose a good friend.

That some people don’t like to fix things and some people do.

That assemble-at-home hospital potties should come with better instructions.

That it’s good to be on a great team.

That some friends are unimaginably wonderful.

That the First Lady has real class and respect for Americans.

That the First Grandmother should write a book so others can learn how to raise a girl with real class.

That the President knows how to make somebody in need feel really good.

That you will have nightmares and you will be very glad each day you see the sun rise.

That it’s wrong that somebody will write Christmas cards to a son while somebody else’s little girl is in the cold ground.

That when visiting in the high desert, you should check your shoes for scorpions.

That you’ll remember the name of the nurse who saved your sister’s life.

That you can drive the little red car if you want.

That nobody really knows what to do with a box of used sharps.

That everybody should take a first aid course.

That 3 years followed by 3 more years of trials is not the main focus of the future.

That some news teams are better than others.

That the Director of the FBI has lousy handwriting.

That a space ship pilot has my sister’s phone number in his cell phone.

That Bonnets and Stems does not sell flowers.

That taking over your mom’s business that’s been in the same location for 23 years is better than a computer job.

That zippy new sports cars are more fun to drive than old compact commuter cars.

That Arizona oranges are beautiful and tasty.

That hugs are good, but I already knew that.

That big sisters are special.  Especially mine.
*******
He's really quite wonderful, isn't he?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Lunch with Billy Collins (part 2)

Driving from the northwest side down to the Arizona Inn was an instant replay for TBG of the countless trips he made over the 10 days I was hospitalized.  Down First and over to Campbell, trying to avoid the traffic on Ft. Lowell and failing, as it moved ever westward, inexorably challenging buses and passenger cars alike, he railed at the bumps in the road as he looked anxiously to his right, worried beyond measure about his sweetie and her aches and pains.  

I tried to be brave, but the outside world is a scary place for me right now.  Unintended consequences do happen.... short Jewish girls do get shot.... the guy crossing the street could turn suddenly and ......  It was a struggle to stay focused on the big blue sky and the cold fresh air buffeting my fragile self.  Brother was in the back seat, on his way to the airport and the (other) women who love him and he kept up a steady patter of chatter designed to keep me distracted.  It almost worked.

Did I know where we were going?  Yes, turn left at the hospital and the hotel is on the right.  The hospital, looming large and frightening and comforting all at the same time.  My room, hidden behind the parking garage, a small safe sanctuary from the craziness outside... the urge to return was nearly overwhelming.  The nurses and doctors and security personnel would keep me safe, would keep the uncertainty of the real world at bay, and I could lie on my plastic mattress and pretend to sleep while I healed.  But retreat is not an option, and Elm Street is one of the prettiest roads in Tucson, and suddenly there was the curb cut and the bellman and the borrowed wheelchair and Beautiful Anne, my hostess, just waiting for me to arrive.  TBG and Brother argued over who would escort me to my seat and be sure that I was comfortable and unbroken between the sidewalk and the banquet room but wiser minds prevailed and, after promising that I would be returned "without so much as a hangnail"  I was rolled to the venue.

I left the wheelchair behind; if Tucson is seeing me as an icon of recovery I had to enter the room with my walker.  From the perspective of a wheelchair I am looking up at an unfamiliar world.  Doing bar-dips, hopping across the dining room to the Speaker's Table (the Speakers Table!!), I was closer to my old, independent, 5' self.  No one approached me, which was a good thing because balance and distance and exhaustion make for an interestingly unstable combination these days.  But their eyes were upon me and I could hear the whispers identifying me.  It's not intrusive so much as surprising, not invasive but definitely within my personal space.  I'm coming to terms with being the face of Tucson's recovery and "Oh, look, it's Suzi!" has become my new normal when I venture out into the world.  I have a new appreciation for movie stars who want to run out for a gallon of milk when they need a haircut and have no clean clothes.  Before I'd left home I'd examined my outfit from all directions, sitting and standing, and my hair came in for some serious mousse and fluffing.  It's not who I was, but it is who I am.

It took me a while to get over the excitement of sitting at the head table..... I wasn't the bride nor the speaker.... I'd just gone to the grocery store with a friend.... but there I was and then there was Billy Collins, quietly entering and approaching his table... our table... to sit next to me.  Lunch with Billy Collins.... I could barely catch my breath.

Little Cuter has been pretty jealous of this whole event.  It was she who introduced me to his poetry and cries of "Not Fair!" have never been far from our conversations.  I had The Apple That Astonished Paris in my purse, a token I'd ask him to inscribe for her as a means of assuaging my guilt that I and not she was sitting there, eating salad and warm rolls and drinking iced tea with the former poet laureate of the United States of America.  For the moment, though, all I could do was glow as he and his fiancee shook my hand and rubbed my back and told me how glad they were to meet me.

How glad they were to meet me..... I am still getting over that one, denizens.

Literary Society members approached with politeness and grace, offering books for autographs and sharing snippets of their lives.  Billy Collins sat with a stack of books and papers on his lap, rearranging and reorganizing as the meal progressed.  Then he was introduced and took the podium, appreciating the impromptu description of his life and career which was told from the heart instead of from a script by the organizer of the event.  He was gracious even before he began.

I scooted my chair around so that I could see, and I tried to ignore the throbbing in my hip and my quadricep and my lower back.  No way was I going to miss a second of this; the pain was relegated to its own little box and I was there, in the moment, as Billy (it's hard to call him Mr. Collins; though that seems more respectful it just doesn't ring true) talked about his influences and recited Bacon and Eggs by Howard Nemerov in its entirety:
The chicken contributes
But the pig gives its all.
The ice was broken and he was off and running, sharing little moments in time which he'd made into poetry.  "And that's what the poem turned out to be," he said, describing how a glance out the window had turned into a sonnet on another topic entirely.  All the while his fiancee was looking at him with adoration and amusement and love; I could feel the vibes bouncing off him and being deflected by the warmth of the crowd back at him again.  He was small and the opposite of bombastic and, as Beautiful Anne said "Not everyone can write and read... but he certainly can."  

There was one teenager in the room,  braces and barefoot sitting cross legged at the front table across from ours.  She was enthralled and smiling and then bright red and abashed and laughing as she heard
OH, MY GOD

Not only in church
and nightly by their bedsides
do young girls pray these days

Wherever they go,
prayer is woven into their talk
like a bright thread of awe

Even at the pedestrian mall
outbursts of praise
spring unbidden from their glossy lips. 

She turned to her grown-up and cocked her head.  "YES, that's you!" came back to her in full force and those of us lucky enough to catch the encounter were entranced.  As I mentioned in part one of this story, he didn't come into the event with a pre-determined playlist of poems.  His selections were personalized to the audience; he was a self-described poetry jukebox.  His choices were impeccable.  

For a man with no work habits, who commits an act of literature as he describes mortality being able to italicize life, he was really quite incredible.  Like Audrey Hepburn spurning Cary Grant's offer of friendship in Charade, his brain is too full: 

(It's as if there is a) shelf in my head... when I read a new one the one at the other end falls off..... and the shelf is shrinking..... the memories have retired.

Or, as he said while commenting on the veracity of a poem:

It wasn't quite like that...
But it wasn't unlike that, either.

I wish you all could have been there.  It lifted my soul and my spirits and my brain was flickering in a way it had not since before the 8th of January.  Thank you, Beautiful Anne and Kim Nelson* and the Tucson Literary Society and the Northern Trust Bank, for a most wonderful afternoon.
*****

*see comments for the wonderfulness that she's bringing to The Burrow these days 


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