2019

Emergency!

It didn't end well.  I was walking our Lab puppy early in the morning when it was still dark.  We were going behind a car that I didn't realize was pulling out of a driveway. I yanked Abby May into the street, fell and hit my head. The car missed us, or we would have been road kill. Guy never saw us; not his fault.

          When I got up, my bleeding looked like one of those punch bowl fountains.  Soaked my favorite t-shirt and my shorts. Made it back to the house. The dog seemed fine but wearing a tasteful spattering of my blood. The wife, remaining calm,  said we should call 911. I said I was John Wayne, and we could still take Iwo Jima.  The wife differed. I called 911, said kill the siren, the neighbors deserved their beauty rest.

          Fire truck and EMTs showed up.  Six guys as concerned about the dog as me.  Hey, I'm over 70 and not very cute.  The bleeding had almost stopped. They clean the gash and wrap up my head so I bear a striking resemblance to Boris Karloff in The Mummy. Decide that taking an ambulance to the emergency room is a smart bet. Don't want to get blood stains in our new mini-van.

          EMT in the ambulance asks me if I have ever enjoyed this mode of transport before. I say no, but I have watched many episodes of  Live Rescue, if that counts.  Bummed because I don't get the EKG monitor or the lecture on living my life more responsibly since I didn't OD.  The EMT poo- poos my concern that the dog may develop PTSD.

          At the hospital emergency room, they triage me while a passing EMT looks at my blood soaked shirt and shorts and says, "Someone sprung a leak." An incredibly insightful comment. While I would make a great photo for the next hospital fundraising appeal, initially they put me in a wheelchair and push me to a waiting room where the TV is trumpeting the merits of dental implants.  Where the hell have I ended up?  The wife finds me, and my son also shows up, bringing me a muffin and fruit juice, both of which I can't have in case head trauma precludes those brands. A nurse brings me a blanket since the air conditioning is kept at a cozy 60 degrees. Registration shows up, delighted I have old gummer coverage which will pay the freight for this little episode.        

          They decide I need a CT scan of my head to make sure I'm not in the humpty dumpty category.  It's still early in the day, and after briefly acknowledging that I exist, the two techs pop me into the scanner while continuing their conversation on what pizza toppings are most noxious. I'd go with anchovies, but they don't ask my opinion.  I would like to know if the banging noise in my ears is normal, but the techs pull me out of the tube just before I become severely claustrophobic.

          They then find a bay with a bed for me on the trauma floor. I'm in number 13, hopefully not a harbinger of things to come.  My wife is brought back, and Cheri, a perky (politically incorrect) strawberry blonde RN, says she will be with me shortly, but I don't see her for thirty minutes. Not her fault. Two trauma cases suddenly show up: a woman who has suffered a severe stroke and a guy who just went through a windshield. While this is going on, in a bed across from me, a Hispanic male covered with tattoos seems to be writhing in pain, the alarm on his vital signs monitor is going WAA, WAA, WAA, WAA incessantly. Turns out his heart had stopped and they revived him with CPR before bringing him in. With my narrow world view, I figured heroin overdose, but the guy had been on kidney dialysis and something went wrong. These other situations make my problems seem like chump change.

          Cheri the RN finally returns and unwraps my mummified head.  The CT scan results are back, and my skull seems to be in one piece. No need for brain surgery. Next,  June, a statuesque (politically incorrect) nurse practitioner, looks at my gash and says it will require staples to close it. I imagine those guns with one inch staples that they use at construction sites. Maybe brain surgery will be necessary.  As I wait for the numbing cream on my noggin to kick in, my blood pressure spikes and my vital signs monitor starts going WAA, WAA, WAA.  I ask my wife to push every button to try to stop it, but she is afraid doing so might make be blow up.

          Finally, NP June returns with staple gun in hand. She says I might feel something. You think? She goes POP, POP, POP -three staples- and the deed is done.  It feels no worse than me banging my head against a wall. They are now happy to bring the discharge papers, which I sign in triplicate. June says I might experience concussion symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, headaches and double vision. And I had a big weekend planned watching football players get concussed. As we exit the emergency room, the registration lady gives me the thumbs up, acknowledging that I have survived and that my medical insurance has cleared.  It's been over six excitement packed hours. I get in our mini-van; devour the stale muffin and drink the fruit juice.  I don't care what brand goes poorly with head injuries.

          In the days that follow, I get donuts for the EMT guys (they're not only for cops) and gift cards for my nurses. Fortunately, I don't suffer concussion symptoms other than mild headaches. The other good news is that all of the blood washed out of my t-shirt, and it does not appear that the dog has PTSD. The bad news is that my son says I have to wear a headlamp and three other lights on my body when walking Abby May.  I vacillate. All I know is that John Wayne didn't wear no stinkin' lights in The Sands of Iwo Jima.

         

The Box

Almost everyone has one. A repository for keepsakes. It could be an old cigar box or an ornate wooden chest.  An army trunk can be the resting place of valued items from a long military career, or a shoe box full of faded Polaroids from a by gone era.

          The traditional "hope chest" or "cedar chest" was used by prospective brides and contained such items as clothing (including a special dress), table linens, towels, bed linens, quilts and occasionally dishware. Things needed to get the marriage off on the right foot. Long before fast food and TV dinners.

          My box had belonged to my mother. It is cedar; 18 L x 9 W  x 10 H.  There is a painted image of Mandarin Chinese on the side .   Most of the items are from childhood through the teen years. Baby tooth, marbles, lead soldiers, Boy Scout patches, first driver's license, prom pictures, foreign coins, Mickey Mouse watch, draft registration, letters from my father.

          What about the memory boxes of our lives:

 The School Box

          Crayons. Gum erasers. Sister Mary Eloise. Rapped knuckles. Math. Concrete playground. Best friends forever.  Bullies and mean girls. Cafeteria mystery meat. Hating gym class. School play - forgetting lines. Teacher that cared. Falling asleep in history class. Admiring graduation tassel. The real world...

 The Work Box

          First job: Flipping burgers. Babysitting a little brat. Life guard at a decrepit city pool.  All dressed up for a real interview. Healthcare and wage scale package. Cubicle farm. Dress code? Idiot co-worker. Pride in project completion. Mai tais at the annual convention. Pink slip. Networking for a new career. A fresh idea! Trash cans never emptied. Gold plated watch.

 The Vacation Box

          The tent that wouldn't stay up. Burnt pancakes that never tasted so good. Canadian geese taking off  from a mirrored lake. The sound of wind through tall pines. Poison ivy. The warmth of a sleeping bag. Hotel from hell. Hotel from heaven. Lost passport. Finally, a villager that speaks English.  Ancient ruins at sunrise.  Candlelight dinner in the town's old quarter. Your kids saying they're sick of museums.

 The Romance Box

          First kiss. Dating. Heart about to burst. Too much perfume/cologne.  Brilliant conversation. Saying really stupid stuff. Breakup-makeup. Finally moving on. Finding the one. Making incredible love. First house. Picking out drapes. Life as compromise. Diapers. Teenagers. Where did the years go? Age spots. Last kiss in hospice.

 The Spirituality Box

          God is dead. God was never alive. God is.  The invisible hand. Making sense out of the senseless. Fellowship of believers. Too many questions. Just enough answers. A calming during the dark night of the soul. The true friend. Ribbons of light across eternity. 

          I have another box. It's made of teak and has carved scenes of Filipino natives. It has small pull out drawers and belonged to my grandfather.  It contains swatches from my adult life. Old driver licenses. School pictures of the kids. Social Security cards for me and my wife. Military insignia spanning twenty-eight years of service. Political buttons. ID cards from my teaching career. A photo of my wife when we were first dating. The years ticking away.  Go find your box. A touchstone. A life fully lived.

The Elderly

I was perusing the local newspaper, and in the law and order section, an “elderly man” was assaulted during a home invasion. The victim was listed as being 70.  Now when I was twenty-five, I would probably have equated “elderly” with anyone over 60.  However, now that I am in the eighth decade (70-79), I take it as a personal affront being seen as "elderly."

          To the younger generations, “elderly” connotes a barely moving, toothless individual, swaddled in Depends, who can’t remember his/her phone number. Have I lost a step, do parts of my body ache that I didn’t know existed? You bet. However, the brain is functioning just fine, thank you, (except for all those senior moments) and I plan on driving until they remove my cold dead hands from the steering wheel.

          Of course, in discussing the “elderly,” you do have to pay attention to cultural and historical contexts. Asian societies have traditionally venerated their older citizens.  The wisdom that comes with age is valued, and it is expected that mom and dad live with the kids when they can no longer thrive on their own. In fact, in most societies where life hasn’t become artificially processed and formed, the older folks are seen as an asset, not as tomorrow’s trash.  However, in many “modern” first world Western cultures, one of the biggest industries going is warehousing the geezers in assisted living ghettos. Out of sight, out of mind; let them keel over at the bingo table.

          If we take a step back in history, the average life expectancy looked pretty grim. In biblical times it was around 35 years. As late as 1907, the average life expectancy for men was 45 years.  Hardly enough time to sell these folks a decent chariot or replacement buggy wheels.  The Weekly Scroll in Rome might have had the lead, “Senator Flavius Valerius dies in the Forum at 36. He was a true elder statesman. Leaves behind strong but brief legacy.”  The point is, senior status may be both in the eyes of the beholder and in the sweep of history.

          Now, I realize that we all reach a life stage where heavy duty assistance may be needed, but too often, those Americans in their golden years are perceived as a blight upon the planet.  There is a reason the prime demographic for advertisers is 25-54. How much profit is there in a bottle of Metamucil and heating pads? We old folks rarely buy a new car every other year. We hold onto the rust bucket for at least ten years, cherishing the cassette tape player and engines that a mechanic can understand.  We buy our clothes at Sears (Oops, the dustbin of history) and have phone landlines (that’s right, my cold dead hands). I may not see myself as “elderly,” but I have a lot of preferences that place me firmly in the Luddite camp.

          Who says the relics can’t get it done? Picasso was still painting and fathering kiddos into his 70’s and 80’s.  Frank Lloyd Wright was cranking out the architectural plans until he assumed room temperature at 92.  Kurt Vonnegut was wielding the mighty pen into his eighties. Mother Teresa was heading a missionary group when she was almost 90. In short “elderly” shouldn’t mean comatose.  Me, myself and I plan on writing the great American novel sometime in my mid-eighties. I just might have enough life experience by then.

Demolition Derby

27 miles. That's what the odometer showed on our new vehicle, a Chrysler Pacifica mini-van. A real step up from our worn out twelve year old trade-in. Within 3 1/2 months of buying it, the van was involved in two accidents, being rear ended at a stop light and clipping a car going twenty-five miles under the speed limit.  Reminds me of that saying, "You just can't have nice things." The collision damage made me reflect on the various types of bad drivers that clog the road on a minute by minute basis.  The egregiousness of their driving habits is listed in no particular order.

 

Homo snowbirdalis - These old folks flock in from the Midwest in late fall and cause havoc until they fly home in the spring, Blind, hard of hearing and unsure of their surroundings, they ignore lane markers and drive so slowly that they are regularly passed by bicyclists. They also crash into buildings after experiencing "medical incidents."

Homo aggressis - Can be male or female. They drive like they own the road and are competing in Formula 1 at Le Mans. Weaving in an out and crossing over three lanes of tight traffic so that they can cut right in front of a car before making an immediate left turn. Have perfected the California rolling stop and believe that red lights are only an annoyance to be ignored.

Homo imparis - Juiced up on alcohol, drugs or weed, these drivers blithely skim along the highway without a clue that they are a death threat to all around them. At a police stop the refrain usually goes something like this, "Hey bro, I only had two beers." "Dude, I don't know what that white stuff is, These aren't my pants!" "I just lost my medical marijuana card. That scale isn't mine. I don't know why my car reeks, I last smoked weed three days ago." Society's creme de la creme.

Homo cellphonator - Technology from hell. Usually drivers under forty who talk, text and search on cell phones while being vaguely aware that they are in a sea of traffic. Skype your best friend while going around hair pin turns.  Browse Amazon while driving sixty mph in a construction zone. Text your agreement to a business proposal as you engage the side of an eighteen wheeler.  Ain't progress great?

Homo illegex - Suspended driver's license; no auto insurance, expired car registration. Burned out headlight and brake light. "Officer, I was going to take care of all of this as soon as I get paid from a job I'm starting in two weeks. Can you just give me a warning?"

Homo mornians - Guys are shaving while driving or trimming their mustache. The ladies are applying makeup and curling their eyelashes while steering with their knees. They already think they're in self-driving cars. RIP Sally Musgrove. She was pulled from the wreckage, still clutching hair spray in her left hand.

Homo gluttonus - Breakfast, lunch, dinner. They all taste better when consumed behind the wheel.  Shove that breakfast burrito in your maw as you maneuver through morning rush hour. Look down at the salsa that's dripped on your pants as you belatedly marvel at the car that slams on its breaks in front of you. Crush the monster burger while someone eating sushi in a Subaru is about to crush you.

Homo boomboxicus - At a stoplight, the guy's car is shaking so hard from loud rap music, that it's about to leave the ground. You don't dare look over because that could obviously be a sign of disrespect that would get you shot with a very large handgun. Enjoy the moment.

          While I don't claim to be the "perfect" driver, I've had a lot of years of observing what not to do on the road, and committing same to my memory banks.  Defensive driving is only way to survive the free-for-all attitude of today's road warriors. "Is that lady really making an illegal u-turn with two dogs on her lap?" Be safe my friend.

Address Change

It seemed like a simple request.  My wife had received a notification from one of her medical providers that had been sent to our previous address and then forwarded with one of those vapid yellow labels. I had already tried three times to input  our new address with this organization. After going through phone tree hell, I finally was talking to a live, semi-sentient human being.

          "How can I be of service?'

          "My wife was sent a notification to our old address"

          "So you want to do an address change?"

          "I've already tried three times."

          "Since it was sent to your wife, she has to make the request for an address change. Is she available?"

          "No I am calling for her."

          "I am looking at her file, but can make no changes without her authorization."

          "She is my wife and we live at the same address."

          "Sorry sir, I must speak to her."

          "I also have an account with you; can you pull it up?

          "Certainly sir. Let me put you on hold"

          (Ten minutes later)

          "Sir, how can I be of service?"

          "What is the address listed on my account?"

          (She reads it to me)

          "That is our current address, but my wife is receiving your correspondence at our old address."

          "I can neither verify or deny that sir."

          "I am holding the envelope in my hand."

          "Sir, I need to speak to your wife about her account."

          "You are looking at her account and my account. Can you tell me if the address is the same on both?"

          "That is privileged information, sir."

          (I am about to have the vapors)

          "How do I get permission to speak on my wife's behalf?"

          "Is she there with you, sir"

          "I've already said, she is unavailable."

          "You can have her fill out an Acknowledgement of Permission form."

          "That lets me speak to you on her behalf?'

          "Yes, it will be mailed to her. It requires being filled out in triplicate. It must be notarized and then resubmitted every three months."

          "But, I don't know if you will be sending it to the right address."

          "Sir, I must speak to her regarding that, unless you currently have a power of attorney filed with us."

          (I'm melting into the floor)

          "I give up."

          "Sir, I didn't catch that?"

          "It's alright. Forget it. I will have the Coast Guard airlift my wife back from an Alaskan ice flow so you can talk directly to her."

          "Sir, that is the best approach. How else may I help you today?         

          "Does my medical plan with you cover Valium?"

          "Sir, I would have to check the formulary."

          "That's ok. Just send me the info to the correct address on my account." 

          "Sir, it was a pleasure serving you. We have a survey..."

          "Thanks! You've been veeery helpful. Goodbye."

The Warmth of the Sun

I should be ashamed of myself, complaining about how cold it is in Tucson,  55℉ day and 32℉ night. In the Midwest, the polar vortex is wrecking havoc. Chicago was at -25; -77 at Thief River Falls, Minnesota. Still, context is important. In Tucson, I am use to bubbling along at 105 in the summer months. Cook an egg on the sidewalk. For me this is the norm, and I like it! Thus, when there is a "real" desert cold spell, I am quickly swaddled in a down jacket, wearing lined gloves and a sock cap over the ears.

          In life's journey, I inherently knew that I wanted to keep my keester in the warmth of the Sun. Three winters in Kansas during my middle school years was enough cold weather to forever fill out my ice skating dance card. Snow up to my waist: wet shoes, soaked pants, knowing what a popsicle must feel like. Frozen gloves that could stand on their own. I was happy to head for Oz if it meant getting out of Kansas.

          After three damp rainy years in England (story for another time), I finally ended up in Florida, land of sunshine and oranges. At the University of Florida, I didn't need a parka, but with the humidity, I soaked through a couple of shirts a day while watching alligators frolic in a nearby swamp. Still, in a heartbeat, I'd take that humidity and an occasional sunburn over turning blue and watching my breath freeze. When it came time to leave the womb of academia, I knew that I must follow the sun.       

          Arizona appealed to me because of cowboys and the dry heat. Kind of like the back blast of a nuclear explosion.  So I lived in Phoenix, and during July I accepted the fact that I would feel like a bird rising from its own ashes. However, during most of the year, the weather was so copacetic.  Mr. Sun warming everything to just the right temperature. I still kept the parka for those few days in January where Kansas shipped some excess prairie frigidity our way. On those anomalous cold days, I would still turn my face toward the sun and let the faint hint of warmth wash over me.

          Mountains and cactus were followed by 21/2 years in the San Francisco Bay area where I became intimately acquainted with fog and earthquakes. Swallowed up by the primordial mist. I finally fled back to the desert and Tucson where I traded in my navy pea jacket and fisherman's cap for buckskin and a Stetson. Hello Sun!

          The Beach Boys have a song called, "The Warmth of the Sun." The guy in the song is bummed because his girl has dumped him: The love of my life/ She left me one day/ I cried when she said/ "I don't feel the same way." After he gets past the boohoo aspect, he realizes that love is a renewable resource  which he can use again in the future. In fact, love and Mr. Sun have a lot in common: My love's like the warmth of the sun/ (Warmth of the sun)/ It won't ever die/ (It won't ever die). Well, the sun may flame out in a few billion years, but for now, I'm really digging its rays - keeping me happy and filling my vitamin D quotient. Hot! Hot! Hot!