If you can’t stop my pain, you may as well just shoot me!

pills_variety_crop380wI try to be a pragmatic user of medications. I think we have them for a reason and the reason was all mine when I found myself in rehabilitation and unable to perform the most mundane tasks because of intense pain. Having said that, let me add that I thought I possessed a healthy but wary attitude toward all drugs, especially narcotics. I realize now that my perception of pain-killing opioids was informed by my family of origin which was rife with alcoholism and other drug addictions. My father died of complications from his years of drinking excessively. My brother died of an alcohol and drug overdose. Obviously my viewpoint was skewed.

Over the years of my adulthood I have learned to enjoy an occasional glass of wine, and I once took a Vicodin at the emergency room when I had what we believe was a gall bladder event. Triage sent me home with four tablets and told me perhaps I should take only a half since the whole tablet knocked me silly. I ended up throwing out 3 1/2 of them. That experience didn’t do a thing to quell my fear of drugs. In fact, quite the opposite.  Imagine going from that kind of trepidation about taking pain killers to begging for them back in October after my accident. That’s some serious pain.

I don’t remember exactly how long I lay in that hospital bed without any real help for my pain. I know that the therapists came to my room twice a day and laboriously tried to get me to a sitting position but the pain was agonizing and I couldn’t do it. I told them I needed to see a doctor so they sent one to see me. She said she understood I wanted/needed something for pain. I explained that I had to have something if I were going to be able to get up and get well. She left an order. I don’t know what it was but it helped about as much as an aspirin. Even one of my caregivers told me that was not what I needed; that it was not going to help my kind of pain. More time wasted while my muscles continued to atrophy.

Then I got a stroke of good luck. A staff member stopped by one day and asked me how I was doing. I told her I wasn’t making progress because of the pain. She informed me that there was a doctor on staff (I think fairly new there.) who knew all about pain management. She said, “You need to see him. He’s very good.”

I tried not to get my hopes too high but I asked my daytime nurse (CNA) to ask him to see me the next day. In fact I pleaded, “Don’t let him leave tomorrow until he’s seen me.” She promised she wouldn’t. (I have this mental image of her with a lasso around him, dragging him back down the hall. 🙂 )

I don’t think she had to rope him but by golly he showed up and my rehabilitation took a one-eighty turn and I was on my way back. My relief was palpable.

I’ve thought a great deal about what Dr. H (H is for hero.) does that makes him an effective and outstanding doctor. I’ve recently been back at the facility for additional therapy and I saw him in the gym talking to a patient. She was in a wheelchair. He got down in a squat to look her in the face and talk to her. That’s when it all came flooding back to me. That’s what he does. And much more.

He came into my room, introduced himself, looked me in the eyes and we talked. He listened. What I said mattered. He showed no sign of being in a hurry. I was the only patient he had in that moment. This wasn’t one of those 3-5 minute visits. We talked until we said what we needed to communicate to each other. I understood him. He understood me. He made me a partner in my care. That matters a great deal to me. I monitored my medication about as carefully as he did. And guess what? I’m not addicted. That had been a big concern for me.

Dr. H is very young for one so perfectly attuned to his patients needs and concerns. I believe that medical personnel can be taught a great deal about compassion and patient care. But I don’t believe this doctor had to be taught that aspect of caring. He cares about people. He has a good heart. And it shines as he goes about his work. He’s very good indeed, and I’m enormously grateful.

The Wedding.

photo-7I must have mentioned that my oldest granddaughter planned to wed.  Our family has thought of little else these past weeks.  Saturday, January 25, was the big day.  

If ever there was a fairy-tale wedding, this was it.  Sometimes the stars align, details fall in place, and life feels just right.  When it happens to one as dear as a grandchild, Gramma rejoices and asks no questions. I felt lucky to be along for the ride.

The bride glowed and the groom beamed. photo-9 The minister gave a lovely homily on the importance of familial support, a charge, if you will, to both families, and to friends present, to support and encourage the couple.  I think that’s important and necessary so I was happy that he included it in the service.

The reception, I think, was the most fun one I’ve ever attended. photo-10 One granddaughter  entered the ballroom at The State Club, looked at the flowers and cake, turned an ear to the music and commented, “I’ve been waiting for this my whole life!”  Then she went to the dance floor and started to cut a rug with her brother.  She literally danced the night away–with Uncle D and Cousin A and Sister H and whoever else was willing to take to the floor.  Yep.  It was seven-year-old S, my youngest grandchild. Here she is with her big brother.

On Monday, two days after the wedding when I went out to walk with my buddies, they told me I still had that wedding glow about me.  I guess that’s what happens when a grandma sees her grandchild perfectly happy.

I’ve had great fun telling friends about the festivities.  The photo booth was a big hit.  The best I can tell photographers with funny props and instant pictures are all the rage these days. photo Afterward one can go online and order more copies to share if one chooses to do so. Need I say I’m not likely to want more of me but I might want some of family and friends. Here, my grandson, his dad and I ham it up for the camera. Because I used to teach Spanish, I had to don the sombrero. Or so they said. I was happy that it matched my wedding ensemble.  Question: What do a Spanish teacher, a 12-year-old rabbi and a goofy dunce have in common? Answer: We’re family having fun.

Sit down now.  I’ve saved the best for last. Okay, I admit it’s probably not the best part but it just could be the funniest. The band spokesman announced that all the “single ladies” should come on the floor to vie for the bridal bouquet. You know the story. The one who catches the bouquet is the next one to marry. photo-8This was a spontaneous act. Really. My ear heard “single ladies” and the usually silent imp on my shoulder kicked the stuffing out of common sense and decorum. I stood, said “That’s me!” and entered the fray with a broad grin on my face.

I think the bride couldn’t stand to miss an opportunity such as this. She threw it right to me.

I’ve had lots of questions relevant to my “catch.”  Questions about dating, marrying again, etc. The answer is NO.

My favorite comment, though, came from my new grandson-in-law. He said, “Every once in a while a moment comes along that you know you’ll always remember. Pat kicking ass to get that bouquet is one of those moments.” Thanks, J. I do get a bit competitive sometimes. Welcome to the family. We love you.

We left the hearts in San Francisco…

photo(20)Recently I had the good fortune to travel to San Francisco with my youngest daughter S and her oldest daughter H.  I had been to California a couple of times before but this was my first trip to the lovely city by the bay.  I have a serious case of “love at first visit.”

Thanks to Tony Bennett’s famous “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” there’s an ongoing heart presence in various sites around the city.  The hearts pictured in this post are the ones that are on the four corners of Union Square.  photo(21)The only permanent heart is the one Tony Bennett painted.  (See the photos above and to the left.)  Can you believe the fabulous singer is also a painter?

Click here and/or here if you would like to learn more about the San Francisco heart project and the noted artists who have participated.  I am enamored by them and have been thinking maybe I could commission my gifted grandchildren to paint some for my yard and house.  It could happen.

I think this blue one might be my favorite.  I’m a bit of a blue/green girl.photo(41)  I posed my girls in front of it.  I think they added to its beauty.  Moments later a very kind woman came along and took a shot of all three of us. That one’s on my daughter’s camera so I don’t have a copy.  We were grinning and obviously having a fun time.

This notion of taking each  grandchild on a trip after his/her high school graduation started when my ex-husband and I took our first granddaughter to Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  She chose the location.  D and I had been there before but Granddaughter E had  not.  We loved going again.  But most of all we enjoyed the company of our 17-year-old.  I still laugh when I remember E’s indignation as security pulled her out of the line, made her take off her hiking boots and answer additional questions while I stood behind the agent and mouthed “Be Nice”.photo(23)  She couldn’t help rolling her eyes.

There are six grandchildren still to graduate and I keep thinking “Ahh, the best laid plans…”  I can’t help feeling a degree of nostalgia.  D and I had planned these little trips together.  I have learned, though, that I’m quite capable of doing them without his help.  And have fun in the doing.

As it happens I will have a granddaughter graduate each of the next four years.  Then I have a break before my second boy graduates and an even bigger break before my little one finishes up.  I’m planning to stay physically strong and financially solvent enough to travel with every one of them.photo(27)  That’s my plan and I’m sticking to it.

I never know where my writing is going to take me.  I started out intending to write about the glorious time I spent with S and H in San Francisco.  My fingers took another direction.  Sometimes I think they have a mind of their own, kinda like my unruly hair.

Stay tuned for San Francisco, Part 2.

The miracle of friendship.

photo(51)A friend is the only person in the world who understands exactly what you’re saying even though you may not be talking. ~ Anonymous

I have written before about my gaggle of girlfriends.  We have a tradition of gathering at one of our homes two (or more) times a year and sharing space and joys and woes.  We’ve been through hard times together, but what stands out is how much we are able to laugh together.

We are fortunate that one of us has a home at Carolina Beach, NC, and that’s where we were for the long Martin Luther King, Jr., weekend.  I prefer the beach in the off season.  I generally don’t head for the shore when it’s hot and sticky and there are nine million people elbowing and shouting and hoping to get in whatever space I’m trying to occupy.  That’s not my idea of fun.  Sorry for the digression.  Back to friends.photo(47)

Sometimes we play games.  Sometimes we watch movies, or an ACC basketball game.  We might eat out all weekend, or we might eat in the entire time.  There are no rules.  Well, there is the unwritten rule that we are a support system for whichever one(s) may need a sympathetic ear and/or a shoulder.

One of our group has suffered a great deal of loss in the past couple of years.  She lost her mother and her father in a very short span of time.  Unfortunately, she is also dealing with a number of other personal losses.  Still she’s our comedian.  And through all her hard times she is able to make us laugh…and cry.  I think that’s a small miracle.

photo(48)I can’t talk about this group without telling you a little about S.  She, too, makes us laugh.  When she and her husband were building their house, she wanted to know why she couldn’t omit the kitchen as she had no plans to cook.  And the miracle is that she baked cheese biscuits for our breakfast the last morning we were there.  Who knew she could cook!?

Often we give in to silliness such as these little flamingo-pink rubber duckies.  We have long had a pink flamingo thing going on, and this trip L brought each of us a small flock of ducks in that tacky color.  We had to provide a pond so they could swim.  Some of them wouldn’t sit straight in the water.  They looked like they were diving for something.  One of our group, of course, said those were the ones that had too much to drink.  (I say like some of us.)  And we giggled some more.photo(52)

In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out.  It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being.  We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.  ~ Albert Schweitzer

Pat’s excellent adventure.

AshevilleDowntownDayIt is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves – in finding themselves.   ~ Andre Gide

A few weeks ago my daughter and I drove up to Asheville, NC, to a reading and book signing by Barbara Kingsolver, one of our favorite authors.

Even though Charlotte is the largest city in North Carolina, I think Asheville may be the most recognized (by people outside the state) and beloved (by in-state residents) city in the state.  It’s my favorite.

We left Charlotte early enough to arrive in Asheville for lunch and a little shopping.  Asheville is a small city nestled in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.  According to the July, 2011, census report, the population was 84,458, just large enough to have many big-city amenities, yet small enough to maneuver by car without getting too lost.  (Giggle.)  Well, my travel companions might not agree with that last statement.  More on that in a moment.

One thing I enjoy when I’m in this diverse small-town city is the opportunity to eat at one of the many restaurants that specialize in vegan and/or vegetarian meals.  After meeting our friend C at the hotel, we all headed out for dinner at one such restaurant, Homegrown, near the University of North Carolina-Asheville (UNC-A) so we could go from dinner to the auditorium on campus. As promised by DJ, our meals were delicious and prepared with the freshest, best-quality groceries available.  I will look forward to a return visit in the future.

So far so good.  We were fairly familiar with the route up to this point.  DJ had eaten at the restaurant earlier in the year while in town for a conference.  And I had entered the campus from this direction – quite a few years ago.  I probably don’t need to tell you that our first approach to campus was a bust.  We circled out (I was grateful that DJ was driving.) and took another approach.  Thanks to my daughter’s memory which is more efficient than mine, we were successful on our second approach.

Malaprop’s, the bookstore where we ordered our books and tickets, had sent us a very rudimentary map of the UNC-A campus.  My attitude was that it couldn’t be very difficult to find the auditorium at such a small school.  I’m not sure C and DJ agreed with me but they gave me free rein; they humored me.  I figured we could stop and ask a student, a nice young teacher at the gym door, or any breathing human.  One time years ago my daughter told me I would talk to a fence post.  She was right.  I don’t fear strangers.

After several stops and starts to ask if we were headed the right way, we arrived at Lipinsky Hall where Barbara K was speaking.  It was a bit of a trek but we’re all three hardy types and the walk in brisk late-fall mountain air was invigorating.  (That’s my opinion.)

If you’re a Kingsolver fan you know her for The Poisonwood Bible or Prodigal Summer or photo(30)any number of other books.  Her latest, and the one she read from, is Flight Behavior.  I don’t do book reviews but let me say this about Barbara Kingsolver’s work:  She doesn’t write just books; she writes literature.  Many high school English teachers agree with my assessment, as some of her work is required reading for high school students.

photo(31)In my version of Barbara’s words, Flight Behavior is a novel about a number of things: climate change, monarch butterflies, marriage, the Appalachian Mountains, family relationships.  I don’t remember whether she included politics but it’s a word I would add.  I found the book entertaining and thought-provoking.  Every paragraph, every sentence is its own little work of art.  She’s a remarkable author.

Hearing BK read her own work was a rare and special treat for all three of us.  She is a native of the Southern Appalachians as are C, DJ, and I.  Sometimes I’m tempted to think that’s why we like her work, but that fact can’t explain why her writing is wildly popular all over the world.  It does make me have a special warm spot in my heart for her, I think.  And it helps that she pronounces Appalachia correctly.  (Sharyn McCrumb, another of my favorite Southern Appalachian writers explains the pronunciation here.)

I would like to tell you that Pat the Navigator got us smoothly back to our hotel from the auditorium.  Alas, I would be lying if I told you such nonsense.  Suffice to say that the on-ramp we were looking for was cleverly hiding near an overpass and we kept missing it.  I stopped counting after three passes.  Does anyone know if Apple has corrected its latest map fiasco?

Cleaning windows, and other strange triggers.

I may have mentioned before that I’m not a fan of house cleaning.  Once in a while, though, I have to do a few basics.  Vacuum up cat hair.  (Tell me again why I love Lulu.)  Wash the toothpaste spatters from the bathroom mirror.  Clean an occasional window when it becomes so foggy I can hardly see out.

It was that last job that recently brought a tear to my eye.  It made me think of Jeanette, my dear friend, and the woman who kept my house spotless for several years.  There I stood trying to get the damn streaks out, wishing I were reading a book, lifting weights, going for a walk, standing on my head — anything but cleaning windows.

Not only do I miss J’s cleaning skills, but I miss her.  She was my friend from the time we first met, but I learned what her friendship really meant to me when D moved out.  She held my hands and hugged me and cried with me.  She loved me the very best that she could through the toughest time of my life.  I never had a better friend.  We still talk on the phone from time to time.  She stays constantly on the go, raising a young granddaughter all by herself.  She’s older than I am.  I don’t know how she does it.  But she does, without complaint.

And so I went from feeling pitiful for having to clean windows (How silly is that?), and missing Jeanette (not so silly), to singing my favorite window-cleaning song along with Van Morrison, both of us at high volume.  Sadness evaporates like Windex on a window pane when Van’s in the room.

This afternoon my grandson came over to help me with some chores around the house.  He’s very handy.  He repaired a light switch in the bathroom.  Now I don’t have to worry about the light suddenly coming on at three in the morning.  He programmed my thermostat so it would stop clicking on at odd times and making the downstairs too hot.  I probably could have done that one myself if the print in the instruction booklet wasn’t so small.  Once he had finished a few other minor odd jobs, he came in from the garage and inquired, “Grandma, are you ready for your tree?”

Until that moment I had been undecided.  I wrestle with the tree issue every year.  So far I haven’t figured out whether it’s sadder with or without it.  Spontaneously, I gave him my answer, “Yep, let’s bring it in.”  And so we did.

As he was putting the tree together, I reminded Grandson that he has helped me reconstruct the tree every year I’ve had it except the year I bought it.  That year I did it all by myself just to prove I could.  The memory brings back a flood of emotions that I tried hard not to show in Grandson’s presence.

It was my second Christmas alone, my first in this house.  I knew I couldn’t handle a real tree by myself.  We had always had the real thing in the past so buying a “fake” was a difficult decision.  But I knew it was the only practical thing to do so I headed off to Peppermint Forest in search of the perfect not-so-perfect Christmas tree.

I walked around the “forest” many times as I struggled to justify the prices on the tags of the best quality, prettiest trees.  I finally bit the bullet and chose my favorite, rationalizing that over a period of several years the price would become roughly the equivalent of having bought a real tree each of those years.  I stood in line, paid for the tree, and waited for the giant elves to load it into my car.

I got home with my precious purchase only to realize I might not be able to get it out of the car by myself.  I was able to pull the box to the garage floor, open it, and carry each piece/tier of the tree into the house.  As soon as I started to put the tiers together I realized the tree was too big for my room.  What was I to do?  What could I do?  I did what any not so sane person would do.  I sat on the floor and cried.  I’m talking BOO HOO crying.

Then I got tough again.  And I started putting those heavy, prickly branches back in that damn shrinking box.  By then I was crying angrily.  Angry at the world, and most especially at my ex.  This entire fiasco was his fault.

I know that fear often causes a surge of adrenaline, giving a spurt of strength that a person doesn’t normally have.  I did not know until that day that anger and frustration can have the same effect.  Now I know.  I put that box, tree and all, back in my car by myself, and drove back to the “tree farm”, despite the fact that they had a no-return policy.

I locked the tree in the car, took my receipt inside, waited in line again.  I had practiced my spiel as I drove.  In my calmest, steadiest voice I explained that I couldn’t use the tree and wanted to trade for one slightly smaller.  When the clerk hesitated, my voice stayed calm but my teary eyes betrayed me as I said, “I have never done this Christmas tree thing by myself.  I misjudged the size.  I’m asking if you would be so kind as to make an exception for me.”  By that time I had an audience which included three clerks, one a manager.  The manager stepped up to the plate and told me (and the rest of the gang), “Yes, ma’am, we will.”

I suppose I still feel the trauma of that experience each year when we bring out the holly and the ivy, and yes, the magnificent tree.  I’ve laughed and cried as I’ve written this piece.  I’m grateful for both, I think.  At least I’m no longer numb.  Feeling deeply is a good thing, isn’t it?

Disparate subjects: politics, and a musical cat.

The Democratic National Convention is in town.  The air crackles with excitement.  Okay, maybe that crackle is road rage.

I’m pretty sure Michelle Obama stayed at a hotel a mile and a half from my home last night.  I think that because the streets that form a perimeter around a certain hotel are closed.  The media have warned us for several weeks that traffic patterns will change.  And we all know that those folks are not particularly subtle.  Those changes, of course, cause detours and overcrowding of surrounding routes.  As I move about these next few days I will have to plan my trips a little more carefully than usual.

You might think I’m complaining, but that is not the case.  I am thrilled to have these guests in town.  I think what they/we are doing here is an important part of the American political process.

I considered attending the convention.  I chose not to.  I could have secured a ticket because I worked as a volunteer this summer.  I registered voters in a predominantly Latino neighborhood.  (We aren’t very subtle either.)  I decided instead to watch part of it on television.

Already today I have learned how Jeff Bridges makes a white Russian.  (With a lot of alcohol, by the way.)  To be fair, I also heard him talk at length about his No Kid Hungry project.  Bridges attends both political conventions because he believes strongly, as do I, that hungry children should never be politicized.  I give a resounding “Thank you and keep up the good work!” to Jeff and his children.

Now the other story.

I was in the kitchen recently cleaning the sink when I heard a sweet melodic sound.  I stopped being noisy and listened.  I heard it again.  And again.

The radio, ipod, and television were quiet.  There was no one else in the house.  At least that’s what I hoped.  Just Lulu the awesome cat.  She couldn’t have made that sound.

I dried my hands and tip-toed toward the music.  There was Lulu on the dining room table in a large bowl.  It’s what I call a low bowl because it has a low rim, or side.  I watched quietly.  She didn’t know I was there.  She lifted a front paw and swiped the rim of the bowl.  What a wonderful dulcet sound it made.  She did it again.  Another sweet tone.

Who knew a cat could do something like that?!  When the children were little we had a cat that played the piano, but this is a whole new level of feline musicality.  I tried to take a video so I could maybe enter Lulu in a kitty-cat talent show, but I was too slow.  I’ll try to be ready the next time she plays for me.What did I do for entertainment before Lulu came to stay?