As I start each new decade in life I have asked myself, “Am I grown up yet?” … And back has come the response, “When I grow up I want to [insert one adventurous goal or another].
So okay, I guess the answer could be Not Yet. This year’s birthday, though, brought me up sharp as it ushered in an unanticipated adventure –an emergency month-long stay in the hospital system.
A few lyrics from the catchy Childhood Goodbye by Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear,, my song of the moment. [Link repeats at the bottom]:
Burn all the weeds
Plant the seeds of your poetries
Watch them grow, watch them grow
Oh, child goodbye Child, childhood goodbye, I try
Oh, child goodbye Child, childhood goodbye, I try, I try, I try
When this year’s birthday rolled around back early in January the usual question quickly upended itself. It did pop up early in the day, because this would mark the opening of another decade. I was turning seventy! Could I believe it? Gosh no, I was thinking, the body has its complaints but the mind still races like a squirrel in a nut filled tree. And while my daughter and son-in-law waited in the kitchen to share the lovely cake she had made for the occasion I went into the bathroom, where I promptly fell and broke a hip. How tediously unoriginal!
In very little time instead of eating cake there I was on my den floor snorting fentanyl for a paramedic who didn’t know how otherwise he was going to get me off the floor and onto a gurney. Aaaack, what a horrid experience that stuff was. I was also hanging onto Elf the Corgi, my companion in moments good and rough for eight years, telling her goodbye. For a while.
My grandfather died of consequences of a broken hip. Of course, the man was 95 at the time and he fell off a ladder while fixing his roof.
All these years as a proud Survivor of Polio I have made healthy living a main feature. This has kept me happily away from many medical professionals — and especially away from prescription medications. My general view of the pharmaceutical industry has gone from “Glad they’re around when somebody needs them” to “ Those vultures go to work every day in order to invent reasons for everyone who walks into a doctor office to leave with a fistful of new prescriptions!”
My month long stay with the healing hip in a hospital, then a nursing home increased my personal prescription load. Not counting two simple breast cancer medications from last summer I went in there with two long standing ones, for blood pressure and the nerve pain of post polio syndrome. I came out with new chemical characters whose names remind me of Asian warlords or video game avatars. They walk into my Very Private Person Being with expressionless pronouncements of their names:
I’m Ana Strozole
I’m Irbe Sartan
I’m Atorva Statin
I’m Xarel To
There was also B12 for pernicious anemia, which I seem to have had only for the time that I was in there.
Irbe Sartan (irbesartan, really) actually replaced a previous blood pressure prescription but I get carried away when I read the label. A PT told me that new drug names are created when somebody grabs a random handful of scrabble letters and arranges them the best as can be. Could be true.
Well anyway, if there is one thing I know how to do well it is to be a patient in a long term care facility. Once in the nursing home, just a few blocks from my actual home in bad air, roasting hot summer Fresno, California, my recovery was, if not meteoric, at least steady. Of the three weeks I spent there for the last two I took nearly complete care of myself. The nurses stopped coming in other than to deliver the above mentioned prescriptions. Which I then took according to my own timetable rather than that of the prescribing physician. They also came in to sit for a few minutes, even to say they were glad I was there to give them a break. Ha!
The other patients were varied, including a fair portion of homeless people. Some were drug addicts. One fellow down the hall from my room yelled all night long, every night, “Help me, help me, help me!” This was varied with things he must once have said to girlfriends. The odd thing was that much of this was done while he was sound asleep. In would go a nurse to ask, “I’m here, how can I help you?” only to be greeted by snores. He had broken his neck and was trying to regain use of his arms. Noisily. Whenever he hollered me awake I would say a healing prayer for him, and a patience prayer for the nurses and fellow patients. … After fuming awhile about lost sleep.
Some of the homeless patients had a thing going with an outside “trusty” who would show up nearby with beer. One by one the men in their wheelchairs would roll out the automatic back door at certain hours…
The guy across the hall was apparently a well known musician — drummer, I think. He kept his door closed and required staff to don special contagious gear on entering. His name I never paid attention to — he deserved his privacy from my curious mind, but he did come out and stand his tall, slim shape beside me in the hallway during an alarm one time. He had the mien of a performer peeking around a curtain at his audience.
The hip adventure began on January 6, and on February 8 I rolled out the nursing home doors for good. My faithful daughter, Jericha, was ready with beautiful flowers and a freshly cleaned and tidied apartment for me. The companionable dogs, Elf the Corgi and Opus the Dachs-Terr greeted me with fervid requests for rubdowns and … treats.
Before long in the joyful freedom of home I was blindsided by awareness that during the month of intensive focus on a busted bone and what to do about it, given that my legs are paralyzed and I can only walk with leg braces that didn’t, at first, agree with the partial hip replacement, I had lost my creative mojo. I had been spending my quiet time in the facility re-reading James Herriot’s three volumes of veterinary stories and knitting a lap blanket from lovely wool from Full Moon Fiber Arts, some South American alpacas and a few Merinos, possibly from Vermont. Or Australia. Or New Zealand. Whatever — I had fun thinking of the origins of the fibers flowing through my fingers and onto the needles.
Gradually freed of the burden of considering what was best for The Hip, it’s been a long journey back to where I feel many creative impulses. My blog has been asleep, ditto for drawing. The knitting proceeds slowly now. Knitting bones, knitting yarn, what a conflation of word meaning for a nursing home!
It’s rough transitioning from a place where you have one main concern such as healing, to one where you are an active participant in life. Gathering energy to do simple things like the laundry, getting the mail, visiting the grocery store or a doctor is exhausting. Never mind actually doing those things.
There are moments when I am comfortably reclining in my lovely new Quantum wheelchair, perhaps reading a cozy mystery, when my mind drifts off and I find myself thinking how easy it would be to just … drift off. And then the dogs bark, of course, and I’m back.
Having two (potentially) life threatening medical scenarios playing out over the past year is changing my sense of what’s important. Every day, it is fair to say, I spend time thinking of how quickly life has gone along, how much more is behind than ahead of me Being Baha’i I feel comfortable regarding the continuation of conscious life after leaving my body behind — but also accept the challenge that the quality of whatever mysterious life succeeds this one depends on what one has been up to while here. And that I have not contributed anything like my share of love and care for humanity, for the earth and all its inhabitants. Oh, I care — I care so much that I find myself in tears of compassion over one thing or another frequently. Words of Pope Francis or the Dalai Llama, stories I read online or hear elsewhere, the beauty of a rose garden around the block, the energy basketball players have and pour out. All kinds of things. It’s just that my energy, so much of it all these years, has gone into living a normal life as a not-so normal person, into doing the normal-person things such as having a family, holding down jobs, getting in a bit of travel — and keeping up with the demands of my ceaselessly curious mind. Then a broken leg brace and life as I know it stops in its tracks. A friend invites me over, and bang, the house is utterly inaccessible.
The love of nature is still with me. My garden apartment provides close up views into the lives of Anna’s Hummingbirds, Western Scrub Jays, Mockingbirds, crazy busy flocks of gorgeous little Cedar Waxwings, all sorts of imported trees — and a team of feral cats.
The highlight of my nursing home stay was the Sunday afternoon when Jericha arrived with a picnic lunch, signed me out for a few hours and off we went to the Shinzen Friendship Garden for hours in the bonsai garden and environs with a friend, watching koi, geese and ducks, walking and rolling under falling pink plum blossom petals. Since I’ve been a country person most of my life adapting to city living the past couple of years has been a bit of a challenge. Spots like Shinzen and Millerton Lake, which I visited recently with Jericha and her husband, Paco, feed my green-growing-things spirit.
A Baha’i quotation (from the late Guardian, Shoghi Effendi) that I treasure is:
We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.
In my journeys around the web I sometimes read the blog of Jon Katz, a writer I’ve followed for many years. How could I not, since he’s a fellow donkey appreciator? In an April 16th post called After Everything, What Remains? Nature… he touched my core beliefs. Of course there are so many who feel strongly the pull and the necessity of wild places, things, creatures, responsible farming and agriculture — how uplifting it is to bring thoughts of them together as he has here.
While in the nursing home I made the acquaintance of more people from Punjab that in one place ever before, an experience I treasure. They told me about how an arranged marriage is no terrible thing — often quite the reverse. I learned about the challenges a devout Sikh faces (pun coming, sorry) in treating a cancer inside his mouth. His beliefs insist that he never shave his long beard, which is normally rolled elaborately so the long ends go up under his turban. His doctors tell him there’s no choice but to shave at least that one side of his face. Eventually he finds a doctor who will do the surgery from the inside of the mouth — but I don’t stay long enough to get a sense of his prognosis after that.
One of the loveliest things anyone has said to me came from a young CNA (certified nursing assistant) Sikh who had asked many questions about the Baha’i Faith. We had often spoken of the main Baha’i message to the world now, that all humans belong to a single family, and are learning, by love or by hell and high water, to accept this and move into a cooperative worldview. One time I said something about being as white as person could be — and she responded, “I don’t see you as white.”
Never have I been an altruistic sort of human being. Now I wonder if I should have been, not to mention if I could have, did I have that in me?
And I wonder if maybe now Emily, aged seventy, has finally grown up?
Apple Music puts together lists of all sorts of genres. One one of “eclectic rock” this week there turned up a catchy one, “Childhood Goodbye” by Madisen Ward and The Mama Bear — which has become my mantra. It’s more about life in general, to me, but I think to them it had to do with kids growing up. I love the video, which I share here.