Besides reading to and dancing with my four-month old grandson, I adore showing him the baby in the mirror. I take him to our bathroom mirror, the full length mirror in the office, and the mirror on my antique dresser and say, “Who’s that baby in the mirror?”
Winslow’s bobble head goes from looking downwards to straight ahead where he sees his own fat-faced image. There’s a second of surprise when he first notices the baby in the mirror before he gives himself an open-mouthed smile. I embellish the moment with, “Who’s that baby in the mirror? He looks a lot like you!” My high pitched tones make my grandson’s head shake as he gives his reflection a bigger smile and he moves his chubby arms.
“Hey there, Baby in the Mirror!” I add. “That’s a cute Baby in the Mirror!” Winslow’s eyes widen and the mirror baby keeps smiling. “Why don’t you tell that Baby in the Mirror hello?” Then Winslow wobbles his head as he furrows his brow and starts “talking.” His ohhs, ahhs, and squeals grab the attention of his reflected self.
I urge both babies on with, “Look at that Baby in the Mirror talk! Isn’t he the best?” Winslow raises the octave and duration of his long A vowel screams, so I hold him tighter because his talking requires involuntary kicks and arm movements. I lean in closer to the mirror and mimic an impressed sports announcer, “Listen to that smart Baby in the Mirror! He is amazing!”
Last week I heard about a superstition that showing a baby his mirrored reflection will make teething worse! Winslow has been drooling and sucking his fingers for a couple of weeks now. Should I apologize to him and his parents for increased teething misery?
The “don’t tickle the bottom of your baby’s feet – it will make him stutter” might make sense, but the “baby in the mirror” warnings don’t bother me.
Scientific studies recommend quality baby mirror time. https://pathways.org/mirrors-good-baby/ They’ve also tested when a baby actually recognizes himself in the mirror. (Probably not until he’s almost two years old). Put a dot of ketchup on a baby’s nose, and show him a mirror. When he touches his own nose instead of his reflection, he realizes he’s looking at himself.
We babysit two days a week. Gary helps heat up bottles and distract Winslow with a cross between yodeling, humming, and what sounds like someone herding animals while I take a shower.
Since we don’t have a backyard or an abundance of baby toys, I’ll continue hanging out with that Baby in the Mirror. Winslow’s beyond the soul-sucking period, and teething is already a problem we’re tackling with cold soft plastic toys filled with purified water and our thumb knuckles while our grandson drools and shoves both fists into his mouth. Our biggest worry now is Winslow gagging himself.
We’re so lucky that Casey and Catherine do not scold us for our rusty baby skills or blame us for a tiny scratch on Winslow’s perfect nose or his dimpled wrist. They’re amazing parents – full of gratitude and patience and love!
And Winslow, well, he’s a joyful miracle. He doesn’t mind our grey hair or stained clothes. He is oblivious to a dusty bookshelf or dirty dishes in the sink. He greets us with open-mouthed smiles and kicks his chunky legs when Casey hands him off. He also widens his eyes and gives the Baby in the Mirror the same welcome multiple times a day. Winslow makes me forget my crooked left side, my flabby wrinkled body, and my cluttered apartment. Even my complaining old cat loses her ability to annoy me when Winslow is around. My grandson’s ability to ignore his aching gums or a wet diaper when he sees his double-chinned best buddy – that Baby in the Mirror – reminds me of the Zen masters. Live in the now and embrace the happiness right in front of you!
When people ask me, “What are you doing with yourself these days?” They never expect me to say that I volunteer for hospice. The response is predictable: “Oh, I could never do that.” Truthfully, I wasn’t sure I could either, but I wanted to, and in the last twelve years I have not looked back.
Ever since my father passed away thirteen years ago, I have been drawn to hospice care. My dad did not want to go on hospice, thinking that it would be like giving in. Giving in to death. But, as time went on, he prayed to die and yet, according to him, that didn’t work either. “Why won’t God let me die and get out of this mess?” The praying for death went on for months, but it was not until he gave in and decided to go on hospice care that a change occurred. He gave in to the inevitable, yet as we all know, our timing is not necessarily God’s timing. I happen to believe that we all have a beginning and ending date that we are not privy to knowing ahead of time.
What brought my dad to the praying for death was his inability to accept reality. The nursing home and all that it entails was not what he had in mind for his end of life. He wanted to be at home, his home, and not among the forgotten. My stepmother was unable to care for him, and daddy did not want to pay for nursing care around the clock at home. He did not want to live with my brother or me, he wanted to live and die at home without any hassle or extra expense. He had a plan, but it simply could not be executed. He was too sick and a little too stubborn.
“They’ll park me in the hallway with the rest of the wheelchair people and forget about me. I’ll just be lost with all the others, drooling in our bibs.” His attitude and gloomy description of how it would be did not help him acclimate to his elder-care facility. And so, for a long while he refused to leave his private room, preferring his own company to anyone else’s. He would prop up in bed and pretend to read the newspaper for hours. He would religiously watch Wheel of Fortune and reluctantly participate in physical therapy. When my brother or I visited we would bring him a Blizzard from Dairy Queen, as per his request. “Nothing tastes good except ice cream,” he would say, but after a few bites, he would tell me to put it in the freezer in the nurse’s station for later. “Be sure to put my name on it so no one will eat it,” he’d say. And I would walk down the hall to the freezer knowing that when I opened it, there would be at least five uneaten Blizzards with his name on them, waiting in line to be thrown away.
When I have had hospice patients in the nursing home, my visits become routine. My last patient, Eunice, I visited every Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. After her breakfast, which she liked to sleep through, I would arrive and we would ‘get to doing,’ as she would say. I painted her nails, we talked about her husband and daughters, and when she was feeling feisty, we would join the group for bingo in the recreation room. Sometimes we would sit on the patio and just feel the breeze on our faces and hear the faint sounds of traffic or children playing down the street. And sometimes, when she was feeling brave, I would record her inner thoughts about life and love in a spiral notebook her girls would read one day after she was gone.
But Daddy had a point about being forgotten. Even though I was there for Eunice, and my brother and I were there for my dad, there are a number of people who have no visitors. There are forgotten mothers, fathers, aunts, and uncles. The forgotten who are parked in a wheelchair by the big screen T.V. playing old black and white movies all day long or lined up in the hallway waiting for lunch. The forgotten who slowly morph into the invisible.
When I would visit Eunice every Tuesday, there were other residents that looked forward to my smile and cheerful banter. I could feel the stares and see the usual neighbors wheeling by us, just to say hello. “Is this your daughter, Eunice?” They would ask every week. They watched me, hoping I would come over to where they were, and oftentimes, Eunice would tell them to go away because we were trying to visit. She was jealous of our time and wanted it all to herself. I could see the rejection in their faces and the deep longing to be remembered.
Being invisible doesn’t happen overnight, it is a slow process of being over-looked, being put on a shelf, or being sat down, both metaphorically and physically. There are mirrors over the sink in nursing homes, but if you’re in a wheelchair you might not be able to fully see yourself. Sometimes our invisible ones have not looked into their own eyes in a very long time. To see yourself as you once were and as you are now, is a reminder that you are still here. Still the same on the inside, even though the outer shell is changing.
We are who we are, until the end.
There are still mean girls and want-to-be jocks in the nursing home. Another of my former hospice patients, Marilyn, was scorned at the ‘popular girls’ lunch table. “We already have four sitting here. This is our table,” they said, so Marilyn was going to wheel herself back to her room for lunch alone. On the way to the door, she passed a table of three men who stopped her and said, “Don’t let those old biddies get to you, sit with us! We’re much more fun and twice as nice.” And so, she did. Marilyn became the darling of the men’s table and gave ‘the old biddies’ something to talk about.
There are still women with daddy issues and men who are suffering from PTSD. There are still grateful and happy people and there are plenty of people preferring to be bitter and resentful, angry at life. Even the invisible have issues like my dad did, but if you’re lucky, one day it will change.
I guess we may never know what the true catalyst of change was for Daddy, and truthfully it doesn’t matter. One morning he told my stepmother and brother that he would sign up for hospice, that he wanted to look into getting a motorized wheelchair, and that he put his name on the list to play Bridge. “I guess if I’m not going to die, I better get busy living,” he said. And we all celebrated the victory with a big sigh of relief.
Twenty-four hours later, my daddy died.
Daddy was never forgotten, but it was something he feared. He had been an officer in the Navy, and an electrical engineer by trade, strong and capable all of his life. He did not want to be invisible. No one does.
Why do I volunteer for hospice? If you had met my little friend Eunice, or Ms. Marilyn, you would need no further explanation. You would have raised your hand high and said, “Pick me! Pick me!” As much as I know my visits brightened their days, those visits taught me to ‘get to doing,’ be grateful, and love life until the end.
It truly is a blessing to walk beside someone whose end of life is near. It is an honor to share the sacred space of spirit and to be able to provide comfort and companionship. It is a privilege to help grieving families or simply to listen.
Not everyone who is on hospice care is elderly, but everyone who has lived long enough will face a certain truth, death. The road traveled will be different for all, yet with the same outcome. We all have to go sometime, but how we live out our years depends on attitudes, beliefs, family, circumstances, and how we are treated as well as how we treat others.
Keep your eyes open this week and look for someone who needs to be seen, who needs a hug or even a smile. Watch out for those mean girls and invite someone to sit at your table, and above all else, ‘get to doing!’
I cried the year I turned twenty-nine. I boohooed and made such a big deal out of the last year of my twenties. “I’ll have to be grown up now and learn about mortgages. I’ll have to stop wearing short shorts and start acting more mature. Should I cut my hair?” These are the thoughts that swam through my mind as a young mother of two and looking back now, I wonder why I wasted the last year of my twenties on such foolishness. Turning thirty did not end my short shorts days.
Ten years later, remembering my silly response, I stated that thirty-nine would definitely, absolutely be the year I became a real adult. I had one year to prepare myself for the forties, which everyone knows is the hallmark of maturity, the pinnacle of wisdom and sophistication. My forties were filled with my children growing up, me finishing graduate school, and having a mortgage. I felt mature beyond my years, but my shorts were getting a little longer, and I started buying readers at Walgreens.
Thankfully, there was no angst the year I turned forty-nine: only a peaceful resignation that time marches on if you’re lucky. Silently I marched into my fiftieth birthday with wonder and awe, and in true Boo fashion, my husband surprised me with a special gift.
We celebrated quietly at home with a home-cooked meal and a delicious strawberry cake made lovingly by Boo. We were sitting at the table having just finished cake when a phone started to ring. It wasn’t my landline phone, the ring was coming from one of my yet-to-be-opened birthday gifts. “Where is that coming from? Why is my gift ringing?” I questioned. “Boo! What did you do?”
And with that, I ripped the paper off of my gift, which was a beautiful UT Texas orange, flip phone. My first, very own cell phone. “Hello?” I said.
“Surprise!” my daughter yelled. “You got a cell phone! Happy Fiftieth!”
Not only did turning fifty bring me a cell phone and other wonderful gifts, but it also brought me a huge red zit on the side of my cheek. The location made it unable for me to disguise, plus it hurt like heck.
Welcome to your fifties, it said! You thought you were over teenage acne, but alas, you’re not grown up yet!
Not long after my birthday zit, I had to have a hysterectomy and began hormone replacement therapy. What is happening? I’m not old enough to be over zits but too old to have children. Fifty-one brought me a nice reprieve.
Turning fifty-five or The Double Nickel, as Boo calls it, was like getting a bonus. At fifty-five you are considered a Senior, at least AARP says you are. IHOP, Chili’s, and McDonald’s want to give you freebies or discounted menus and even car rentals want to give you 10% off. There’s quite a list of establishments that want to help you save money. So, I ended my fifties on a high note by retiring and starting what some might refer to as living my best life. (in capris, not short shorts)
When I heard that sixty was the new forty, I held onto that as I slid perilously into the big six zero. But sixty-five brought with it all kinds of stuff that was hard to ignore. For one thing, those dang Medicare phone calls started, and the commercials. “Call this number NOW!” All of a sudden my mailbox was flooded with advertisements for walk-in bathtubs, electric stair chairs, and even more discounts for seniors. Was I now a true senior? A senior-senior? As the fliers for Medical Alert Systems and adult diapers kept flooding in, I realized that I’d made it. I was NOW a mature adult. Grown-up to the max. The day I signed up for Medicare I felt as if I were in a barrel about to go over Niagara Falls. No turning back.
And so it is as I approach my seventieth year of life.
My mother was only thirty-three when she died. I am immensely aware of my good fortune and blessings to have lived such a life as I have. Her early death is not lost on me as I reflect on all she missed and the fact that she did not have the opportunity to grow old. It is a privilege denied to many.
I know the true meaning of when you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything. I used to lament about my hands, saying, “I’ve got my grandma’s hands! Arthritic, wrinkled, and veiny.” But, these hands have held my children and grandchildren and they’ve reached for Boo to steady me in life. They’ve made meals, graded papers, planted flowers, and held the hands of loved ones who have passed from this earth. I’m proud of them and all the ways they’ve shown up for me. My hands tell the story of a life well lived.
So, on May 1, 2023, I will quietly arrive at my seventieth year of life, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise. Gladly, I have not squandered this year worrying or plotting. I’m neither afraid nor embarrassed. I am simply humbled and very grateful.
And as for the short shorts, well I had a good run. It doesn’t seem to matter so much anymore, and if seventy doesn’t say “mature” I don’t know what will because eighty is the new sixty and twice as fun as forty.
Recently, because I’m of a certain age, it was time for that dreaded medical test, the colonoscopy. Everyone fifty and older has a reaction when the word is even spoken, and everyone has their own story surrounding the event and process. It’s a rite of passage.
“It’s the prep that’s the worst part!”
“Hope you have smooth sailing and that everything comes out ok!”
Oh, the jokes can go on and on and while potty humor does help during this most humbling time, we all know the importance of making sure we are up to date on our tests. We know it is necessary.
Importance notwithstanding, it is one of the most dreaded, talked about, and joked about medical procedures we older folks have.
Ten years ago, I had the joy of prepping for an upcoming colonoscopy. I had Boo arrange to get off work so he could take me and bring me home. I drank all the liquid concoctions, took the pills, and showed up at 7:30 a.m. clean as a whistle, and ready to go. (pardon my pun)
“Good morning!” the cheery desk clerk sang.
“Nancy Malcolm. I’m here for my colonoscopy.”
“Hi, Ms. Malcolm. Let me get you checked in.”
Pages began to shuffle and ruffle. She glanced back up at me, “Did you say, Malcolm?”
“Yes,” M A L C O L M
The calendar came out. More shuffling of papers.
Then she grabbed the calendar and said, “I’ll be right back.” And she was.
“Uh, Ms. Malcolm? Your appointment is tomorrow. We have you down tomorrow, the 7th with a 6:30 a.m. check-in.”
I’m pretty sure my heart stopped as I asked, “Are you certain? Oh, my goodness, are you sure? I had it down for the 6th at 7:30 a.m.”
“No, I’m sure. See?” And she turned the calendar to show me. “You’re the doctor’s first patient tomorrow. The 7th with a 6:30 a.m. check-in.”
I felt a flip and gurgle in my stomach, and I thought I would either pass out or take off running to the bathroom, instead, tears welled up and my face got hot. My lip began to quiver and as it did, a salty tear ran down from the corner of my eye.
“I don’t think I can do this again or go without eating for another day.” I turned to look at Boo who was all comfy in his chair with a fresh coffee and reading the news on his phone.
“Why don’t you take a seat, and I’ll talk with the nurse.”
“Ok,” I slobbered and dejectedly turned toward the row of chairs near Boo.
I sat down and before he even glanced up from his news, he said, “Ready for action?”
“It’s tomorrow,” I whispered through my tears. “I’m on the wrong day.”
His face didn’t move, but his eyes peered up at me in shock, “Are you sure?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m sure!!” I said a little too loud and as I looked around, I saw people staring at me sideways with pity and horror. My saga had played out as their worst nightmare, and they were checking their own paperwork and sighing with relief.
Silently, I sat while Boo debated on whether to question me further or just sit quietly in solidarity. He patted my knee.
“I’m waiting for the nurse to tell me what to do,” I offered, and he patted me again.
“I’m so hungry,” I said to no one in particular. “And water. I need a drink of water.”
I went to the restroom. Walked around the waiting room. Tried to read the news over Boo’s shoulder and then just sat and stared into space. Finally, I walked up to the window again.
“Did you find the nurse?” I asked the desk clerk.
“Yes, she’s in the OR. She’ll come out when she can. We have to wait.”
“Ok,” I whispered.
Twenty minutes later, a nurse came out and called me over to the side of the room. As I walked over to the door where she stood, I felt all eyes on me. The collective waiting room leaned one ear toward us, trying to be nonchalant.
“The doctor said he will fit you in this morning, but you’ll have to wait an hour and a half.”
“Yes, yes, Ok. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” I said.
She wasn’t smiling, although I wanted to hug her anyway. “Don’t go anywhere,” she said. “And don’t eat or drink anything. Not even water.”
“Of course. I won’t.” And she turned to leave.
Sure enough, an hour later, she came back to get me. Most of the gawkers from the waiting room had already been called to their appointments, so I kissed Boo’s cheek and said, “See you soon.”
“Good luck, Babe,” he said, and I began my walk of shame to the room where I put on my gown and waited for my IV.
“Did they tell you what happened?” I asked the nurse as she finished sticking me with the needle.
“I heard,” she said. “You got lucky this time.”
“I know,” I said, and they wheeled me off to the OR.
“When do I get the happy juice?” I kept asking, and finally, the doctor said, “We might be able to find you a little bit, even though you’re here on the wrong day,” and then he laughed. That’s all I remember till later that day.
I was still groggy on the drive home, but that evening as I was more awake, I went to the pantry for a snack.
“Cheetos! Boo! How did these Cheetos get here?”
He came into the kitchen and just stared at me. “Are you serious right now?”
“You know I can’t control myself with Cheetos and now I’m going to have to eat some. But I’m throwing them out after that. You shouldn’t tempt me. You know I forbid Cheetos in the house,” I said.
“Boo,” he said. “You threw a fit driving home after your procedure and made me stop at 7-11 for a big bag of Cheetos. I tried to suggest something else, but you said you deserved them after all you’ve been through today. You insisted.”
“Sorry, babe,” I said as I crammed a handful of Cheetos into my mouth.
That was definitely one colonoscopy for the books. So, this past week when I was scheduled again, ten years later, for my colonoscopy, I had already checked and rechecked my dates and times.
When I met with the doctor three weeks ago, he said, “If all goes well, and you do the prep perfectly so that I get a clear picture, and everything looks good, this could be your last colonoscopy. You’re almost seventy, so in ten years you’d be eighty. If this doesn’t kill you it will most likely be something else. Consider it a perk of getting older.”
And then he went on; “Make sure you follow the prep instructions perfectly. This morning I had to tell a lady she has to come back next week. I saw corn.”
“Corn. She said she didn’t eat anything and followed the instructions, but I didn’t get a clear look. I know corn when I see it. No food and no corn.”
“No corn,” I promised. “You can count on me.”
Friends, getting older is not for the faint-hearted. Literally. I followed the prep instructions, starved myself for two days, and showed up on the right day at the right time and sure enough, everything went according to plan. There was absolutely no way I was going to have to come back next week. No corn for me. It was all smooth sailing.
The first Monday meeting with Mitchell, my young, handsome physical therapist, started off with a bang. “Have you been to the restroom yet? You know, pooped?” he asked.
“Not yet,” I said quietly.
“It’s really important, so let’s keep taking what you’re taking and drink lots of water. The more you walk the better it will be.”
Ya’ll, I have a friend who swears her mother used to ask her, “Have you do-do’d today?” Every time she feigned she was too sick to go to school, her mother would point her finger right at her face and ask the dreaded question, “When is the last time you do-do’d?”
Mitchell and I walked a loop through my house, with me on my walker and Mitchell right behind me, holding a white, thick belt tied to my waist so he could keep me from falling. He evaluated my uneven gait and chanted, “Heel-toe, heel-toe.” We then went through a ‘lofty’ set of exercises, to be done three times a day. Next, he checked my incision and reminded me, “When the pain ball runs out, probably Friday, you’ll feel a slight surge in pain levels. Just want you to keep that in mind.”
I was starting to get really scared. Scared about the pain ball (how much will it hurt to take it out?) and what will happen to me if I don’t, you know? Pain and poo, two very big topics that dominated my thoughts day and night. But, because I am a doctor on Google, I read everything I could about both topics and I must say I found out it could go either way…good or bad. Good, like an easy-peasy potty time and absolutely no pain in removing the wire inside my leg. Or bad, like missing the toilet and landing on my butt and twisting my new knee, causing me to have corrective surgery.
Friday morning Mitchell arrived with a smile. “Let’s check your pain ball.”
“No need,” I said. “It’s empty.”
“Ok then. Let’s take it out.”
“Should I take a shot of whiskey? Or bite a bullet?” I joked.
He laughed and said, “I know, right?”
I laid on the edge of my bed, closed my eyes, and he peeled the surgical tape off my thigh to reveal the wire, which had been threaded down the front nerve of my leg. I was trying to mentally prepare for the pain, when he said, “It’s over.” And just like that I was freed from the pain ball and looking forward to a new surge of discomfort.
“Remember,” Mitchell said, “Stay ahead of the pain and go to the restroom. See you Monday.”
After Mitchell left, I drank one more glass of Metamucil on top of all the other laxatives, just for good measure. Sadly, I realized too late, that it had not been necessary. At five o’clock, my stomach started to rumble, tumble, roll, and grumble. For some reason, I felt the need to tell Boo, “Something’s happening.”
“Let the games begin!!” he laughed.
Five o’clock also marked the onset of the dreaded ‘surge of pain.’ I will spare you the gory details, but when I felt I’d better head toward the restroom, I immediately knew my speed on the walker, was not as it should be. Never in my life could I have planned that the pain and the poo would happen on the same day and same time and stay all weekend long. Boo, hollered from the den, “Do you need some help?”
Banging my walker into the door frame, I screamed back, “Leave Me Alone!”
Truthfully, I have only screamed once during this whole ordeal, and this was it.
“No problem,” he answered.
The infamous ‘surge in pain’ was like my knee was waking up a week later from the surgery. Shooting pain, dull aching pain, and stabbing pain settled in on my incision and the very back behind my knee. I took every pain pill allowed me and still prayed to fall asleep. The pain came in waves, like a rolling storm off the coast, battering and ramming my body until I thought I would break. The only rest from the pain was from the sudden urge to run to the restroom because I needed a level head to maneuver my way through the bathroom door with the awkward walker. I was a very hot mess!
Things could only get better after this extremely low point because, after all, this was just the first week of my recovery.
Monday morning, Mitchell said I looked a little pale, but applauded my efforts and we set up a new pain med plan.
“Let’s get rid of the walker and go to a cane,” he said.
“How about tomorrow? I need a few more hours,” I said.
That night I went to my closet and found the cane my grandpa actually carved for himself. It was the same cane my grandma used as well, and now I was the proud recipient. Who would have guessed it? The cane was a perfect simple shape and sanded smooth as silk. Grandpa had painted it a dark brown and shellacked it to a beautiful sheen. The grip was worn in places and as I stood to try it out, tears rolled down my face, imagining my grandparents’ touching this very same cane. I felt their spirit with me. This cane fit me just right and I felt safe and secure knowing my grandparents had in some way, been sent to take care of me.
I practiced that night and the next day it was trial by fire as I learned to walk with the cane. Does anyone remember Festus from Gunsmoke?
At the end of week two, I saw the physician’s assistant and she took off my bandage. I was predicting a Frankenstein scar, but it wasn’t quite that bad. Turns out my surgeon was a brilliant seamstress. One surprising thing about my knee now is that it feels hot at times from the swelling and has a slight pinkish color. They promised it will go away. But, part of my knee is numb, and that will not go away. As I was leaving, the P. A. said I could begin practicing driving. It was music to my ears, and I felt the breeze of freedom floating in my near future. Although it was another two weeks away, I had hope that I could recover and finally go somewhere by myself. No offense, Boo.
Soon Mitchell and I began to go for walks outside. On my 2nd walk, we ran straight into my neighborhood friend, which you may remember as my Walker Stalker. John wanted to know what had happened to me, where had I been, and “Who’s this?”
“This is Mitchell,” I said. “My physical therapist.”
But John never really registered what I said, until finally, he asked, “Now, who is this? Is this your grandson?”
We just smiled and said, “Well, I’ve gotta keep walking, John. See you soon.”
As time went on, I begged Boo to ride with me a half-mile down the road to our community mailboxes. “I don’t need to practice anymore,” I said, as I slightly hobbled to the car. But once to the car, I had to pick up my leg to actually get in. Bending my knee was torturous, in the beginning. I really didn’t realize how strenuous getting in and out of a car and driving one mile could be.
“I don’t think you’re quite ready,” Boo said as I came to a stop.
I knew he was right, but I also knew I was very close to my independence. “I’m on my way back, baby! Just wait and see!”
I finally graduated from Mitchell to outpatient physical therapy. My weeks of exercising, icing, resting, and walking have now turned into two months. My out-patient physical therapist is a seemingly sweet-looking, young woman named, Thea. Don’t let her smiling, girl-next-door exterior fool you, she’s no-nonsense and hell-on-wheels. But, thanks to her and Mitchell, I’m making great progress. At my 8-week check-up, my doctor was very pleased. “You’re one-third of the way healed. Keep up the good work.” He also told me it will take one full year to feel normal and strong, and I’m starting to believe him.
Everyday, there is a little less pain and stiffness, and everyday there is hope for better sleep. I’m walking, driving, sitting, standing. I’m off my addiction to Cheetos. I’ve gone on a trip, grocery shopped, and been to Costco twice. I’m still telling Boo, I may not be able to cook for another month or so, but he’s fine with that because it means fewer vegetables.
I’m grateful to have insurance and Medicare. I’m grateful to all my friends who loaned me the walker, icing machines, and tall potty chair. The friends who brought me food and visited when I was still in my wrinkled pajama pants and greasy hair, and I’m grateful to Boo who never left my side, even when he wanted to! Who has put up with my groaning and moaning and talking about myself until we are both sick of it.
Sometimes Boo is a saint.
Originally, I planned to have my other knee done in March, but as time goes on, I think it best to wait until July. We have a trip planned for the end of March and one in June. Feeling stronger and having a little fun will put me in the right frame of mind to do this all again. (I hope). And Boo will have a chance to rest up before his next nursing duty.
People continue to ask me, “Aren’t you so glad you had the surgery?”
“Not yet,” I answer, “But, I know I will be.” And that really is the truth. I know I will be, especially after the next surgery. As my grandma used to say, “If the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise.” I will be so, so glad I’ve had the opportunity to get my new pair of knees!”
I come from sturdy stock. I’ve survived a lot from my childhood and growing up years. My threshold for pain is high, like natural childbirth high, but the last thirty-eight days have brought me to my knees.
My arthritic knees, a gift from my grandma, have been a source of pain and embarrassment since my thirties. I have repeatedly rubbed Aspercream, Voltaren cream, and Icy Hot on these bony knees I’ve had cortisone shots, rooster cone shots, and rotated ice with heat. I would slowly rise from chairs and avoid all stairs in favor of an elevator. Worrying about my knees has consumed a lot of my life for thirty-plus years.
On a vacation to Washington D.C. a few years ago, I clung to Boo’s arm as we made our way up the eighty-seven steps from the Reflection Pool to the Lincoln Memorial. Rubbing my knees and reverently limping around while snapping photos, I told Boo, “There’s got to be an elevator somewhere. I don’t think I can make it back down.”
I looked all around and found a small sign that said Elevator. It was in the back, back corner of the monument. One lone person in a wheelchair was parked right in front of the elevator doors. “I’ve been waiting for the elevator to come back up for quite a while,” she said.
“I’m going to get my husband and grandson; will you hold the door?” I asked. And she gave me the thumbs up.
Rushing to find Boo and Sam, I called, “Come on guys, I located the elevator!”
Turning the corner, I saw the back of the lady in the wheelchair rolling into the elevator. With her was an assortment of people on crutches, walkers, and canes. I grabbed Boo and my grandson Sam, urging them to get in. All of a sudden Boo says, “Uhh, we’ll meet you at the bottom,” and they walked away. “Chicken!!!” I called after them.
I squeezed myself into the tiny steel trap, making the other riders move closer together. It took a good 5 minutes for the trembling, creaky doors to finally close and I pushed the dirty-looking number ‘one’ on the wall of the elevator. Casually, I glanced to see if there was a number to call if we were to get stuck, but it was too faded to read.
Another long minute later, the elevator jolted and then shuddered as it began to move. S l o w l y, the airless box moved downward, while the wafting July body heat and odor settled heavy on my skin. The smell of old, tarnished metal and flattened carpet that may never have been vacuumed, made me feel claustrophobic. My fellow riders exuded smells from Bengay cream, onions from lunch, and cigarette smoke. I felt a little throw-up in my mouth but managed to hold my breath for the remainder of the ride.
It felt like an eternity as we bumped and gyrated to a stop, waiting another eternity for the doors to open. Luckily I was the first one-off, cursing under my breath at Boo for leaving me and my knees for causing me this stress.
“What took you so long, Nannie?” my grandson asked when I jumped out.
“I’ll tell you later,” I said and took a gasp of fresh air.
So, when my doctor told me this October, “You can take shots and rub creams until you are one hundred years old, but nothing will ever heal your knees. You need knee replacement surgery if you want your life back.”
I cheerfully said, “Let’s do it!” I felt certain this would be my answer as I halfway listened to his explanation about the surgery. I must have blocked out the warnings about throbbing discomfort afterward and tortuous rehab exercises. I zeroed in on the statements, “You’ll be so glad you had the surgery. You’ll be better than brand new.”
On November 8th I arrived at the hospital at 4:45 a.m. and went directly into Pre-Op, where things started to move way too fast. When the anesthesiologist came in to do a nerve block, I started asking, “When do I get the happy juice?”
The nerve block is started at thigh level and a wire is threaded down a major nerve on the front of the leg. Then pain medicine is released through a ball of meds that completely blocks pain in the leg for one week. The nurses and doctors were so kind and thorough and when they told me to sit up in the operating room to get my spinal block, I remember asking, “I hope my doctor had a good breakfast.” That was the last I remember.
He smiled and patted my foot, “Keep the good attitude! You’ll need it.”
When I got to my room, I noticed something was attached to me. “What’s this?” I asked the nurse.
‘It’s your nerve block pain medicine. It’s stopping all of the pain right now. You’ll have it for one week and then it comes out. You’ll be so glad you have it. By the way, you have to take a stool softener and a laxative starting today. Pain medicine stops you up.” Still on my ‘happy juice’ high, I didn’t really soak in the reality of what she had just said.
Approximately ninety minutes later, the physical therapist came in and suggested we go for a walk. “Sure,” I said.
As I sat up the nurse helped me with my IV and the nerve block pain ball that I had to wear around my neck because it was attached to my leg. The pain ball was in its own little black bag, like a purse. I tried to move myself to the edge of the bed and discovered I had to use my hands to lift up my own leg to place it in position. The therapist put that stylish white cotton belt around my waist so I wouldn’t fall, and off we went down the hall for a 10-foot walk.
The whole twenty-four hours I spent in the hospital was full of walks and threats. “Be sure to drink your Miralax and take your stool softener.” “If you don’t pee, you’ll get a catheter.” “You have to eat.” There were pages of information given to me and more “Be sure to..” reminders and then poof, I was discharged and going home. Still a little loopy from pain medicine, I asked Boo, “Please stop and buy a bag of Cheetos. I need them.”
Boo gave me a sideways glance, knowing I forbid Cheetos in the house due to my addiction to those orange, crunchy sticks of deliciousness.
“Right now?” he asked.
The next day, the at-home physical therapist came by to begin my three times a week sessions. I wanted to make a good impression, but sadly my greasy hair, old sweatshirt, and baggy pajama bottoms were all I could muster. Oh, and did I say I was wearing a thigh-high pair of white compression hose? When I answered the door using the walker a friend had loaned me, I saw a handsome, thirty-something, young man with a beautiful smile.
“ Hi, I’m your physical therapist, Mitchell. Ready to get started?
I wish I had a dollar for every time I said, “Help me remember that.” or “Let me write that down.” Other times I get cocky and just know I will remember that we need milk, olive oil and toilet paper. Usually, obscure bits of information like security codes or an old phone number from our landline remain intact inside my mental steel trap.
The other 99% of the time, Boo will find a scrap of paper I’ve written on and confront my faculties.
“Babe, do you really need to remind yourself to eat lunch? That worries me.”
“It’s more like a plan for the day, so I can maximize my time,” I counter.
Lots of people write packing lists before they go on a trip and strangely enough, I do not. However, I do start packing a week in advance and as I remember things I want to take, I put them in the suitcase. Very efficient, I think, versus Boo who packs the night before or morning of. He has left for a week’s vacation with only shorts and no shirts.
My problem is that I frequently write more than one note for the same thing, and because of that, I now make my grocery list on Alexa.
Boo will sometimes holler from the kitchen, “We need more mayo!”
“Don’t tell me, tell Alexa,” I say.
Boo will then holler at Alexa, from the other room, “Alexa, add mayo and cookies to the grocery list.”
“Mycookplease added to grocery.”
“No, Alexa. Add mayo and chocolate chip cookies to grocery list.” Boo corrects.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t get that.”
“Alexa, add mayo and chocolate chip cookies to grocery.”
“Admochip cookies added to grocery.”
“Oh, good grief!” I hear from the kitchen.
But Alexa has my lists for the grocery store, Costco, Walgreens and Target and she is amazing as long as I remember to take my phone when I leave the house.
As much as Boo makes fun of my post-it notes lists, or scraps of paper reminders, he has at least three spiral notebooks going at all times. One for things to do, another for the number of miles he walks a week and then one for writing down his checks, like a giant check register.
YES. I know what you are thinking. Y E S he does.
“You know you could check your balance online,” I say.
“I want to subtract it myself,” he says. “That way there’s no mistake.”
I’m really good at remembering birthdays, anniversaries, and doctor appointments, but my to-do list of lunch, walking and Target sometimes slip my mind.
I can remember vacations we’ve taken, dreams I’ve had, and Bible verses learned in first grade, but song lyrics and directions to Tyler, Texas sometimes throw me for a loop.
My memory is selective, some would say, but I prefer to think I have so many intelligent and important bits of information in my brain, that it is prudent to remind myself of the mundane.
Once, after a weekend with the grandkids, eating cookies, fish sticks, and McDonalds, I wrote a post-it note that said, “EAT HEALTHY.” It was just my reminder to get back on track and stop sneaking M&M’s, but Boo saw it stuck on my bathroom mirror and laughed, “I don’t have to remind myself to poop every day! You’re a hoot!”
I think he missed the point.
I’ve always had this need to jot things down, or record information, like blood pressure or books I’ve read. I love making a list of things I want to accomplish for the day and then marking them off one by one. I’m crazy for note pads, post-it notes, or journals and I have stacks of them to prove it. I don’t know if there’s a name for that or not, but I’ll just take organized, efficient or conscientious.
Don’t listen to Boo, I’m not losing it, I’m maximizing it!
Disclaimer: I have not technically been “a girl” in over five decades. In four months, I’ll qualify for Medicare! “Girl” is an affectionate way some women, even old ones, communicate. “Hey, Girl! Can you believe this weather!?” or “Girl! It’s been too long since we got together!”
Anyway…I’m not the girl who cares if my clothes match perfectly or I have on make-up or if my hair looks great. I’m tempted to use the current scapegoat, the pandemic, but I really blame my appearance apathy on my mom. She used to wear two shades of blue that were close to the same color but not quite. She’d sport an aqua top with cobalt pants with confidence. She got her hair dyed and styled every week and she liked getting dressed up for events every now and then, but she never spent more than ten minutes in front of a mirror before she faced the world. She cared how she looked but she cared more about other things, like good food, good company, and good times.
A week ago I wore my Catcher in the Rye sweatshirt backwards for my morning walk without noticing, and yesterday I sat in my car ready to drive to the grocery store, looked down, noticed a large round grease stain on my navy pants, and never considered going inside to change. I will not retire a favorite t-shirt even after washing machine gremlins have eaten several tiny holes in the front of the shirt. I will wear black sandals with a navy skirt, and I’m not sure of the fall date that decides when it’s illegal to wear white shoes.
When I was teaching, I did my best to look presentable. Our English department wing had a psycho central heating and cooling unit that liked to match the outside weather. If it was 88 in the Texas shade, our classrooms’ temp hovered between 86 and 90. If the fall air was around 52, that was the temperature setting for our rooms. I kept a brass coatrack in the back of my class full of hoodies and sweaters for kids to use while we read Dante’s Inferno or Into Thin Air (an account of climbing Mount Everest). I also had a lumpy multi-colored sweater draped over my teacher chair to help me with the frigid days. I remember a time I’d worn my maroon corduroy jacket with my thin cotton knit skirt and blouse as kids shivered in their desks. During the passing period I noticed my teacher friend in the hall with crossed, goose-bump covered arms. I offered her my lumpy sweater. She gave me a sweet, blue-lipped smile and rubbed her bare forearms.
“Thanks, but that sweater won’t match my dress,” she said right before the tardy bell rang and we each turned to enter our walk-in freezer rooms.
I am not that kind of girl! Looking well put together matters to me, but being cold or uncomfortable trumps style and beauty every time. I put extra time into looking presentable for weddings, funerals, and senior proms (when I’m a chaperone), but even then I’m okay, not great.
In 1989 when I was pregnant with my second son, I decided to get my hair cut extra short so that I could wash it, towel dry it, and go. I never mastered styling hair with a blow dryer, and I do not allow my hair stylist for over thirty years to use “products” on my hair.
I’ve let my hair grow out in 2020 partly because… well… we were on pandemic lockdown, partly to let my hair cover up what old age has been doing to my neck. Then my sister convinced me to stop coloring my hair, and I now have the elderly version of Billie Eilish hair: whitish gray up to my ears and light brown to the top of my shoulders.
When it comes to makeup, I use lip gloss most days and a smear of liquid foundation if I’m going somewhere fancy (like the post office or Target) or have a work-related Zoom meeting. I should not be trusted with eyeliner, mascara, or any other advanced beauty product. During my teens when my Barbra Streisand obsession was at its peak, I worked hard to imitate her smokey eye make-up that involved liner, eye shadow and black mascara, but I’m sure I succeeded in looking like a 15-year-old trying out for a part as a raccoon in her high school’s version of Dr. Doolittle. Once in the 1980’s I read in a Glamour magazine an interview with a model who complained that her sister “put her makeup on with her hooves!” I have always connected with that description of makeup application.
In 1985, after meeting Gary’s family for the first time, I asked him what his brother and sister-in-law thought of me (we stayed at their home). He said, “They said you were nice and that you didn’t wear much makeup.” I felt but a few seconds of disappointment until I remembered his family lived in the land of big hair and abundant makeup.
I am not that kind of girl. Not fancy. No frills. Come as you are kind of person. And almost all of my friends in Austin are similar. Maybe we like a throw-back, retro hippy look. Or perhaps I hold on to growing up in Eunice in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Long loose hair and braless halter top memories. In college it was thrift stores and jeans that got their holes and tears from honest living not from the manufacture’s assembly line. Even our stockings were full of holes!
I remember a scene in the movie Julie and Julia. Meryl Streep (as Julia Child) and Jane Lynch (as her sister Dorothy) are looking in front of a full mirror as they put on pearls to match their fancy dresses before entering a big party downstairs. Julia looks sideways toward her sister after they both consider their reflections, and starts with, “Pretty good.” Then a short pause and “But not great.” They shrug and laugh and head to the party. That’s how I feel about my looks after I try to get “all dolled up.” Pretty good. But not great.
I do not care whether my hair looks styled, my clothes are neat and coordinated, or my face is blemish-free. With hooves for hands and a far from perfect body, I am content to be pretty good because I hope to never be “that kind of girl.”
Grandma Keller had a nickel slot machine in the hall next to the front door of her home. Several times a day she’d use her walker to reach a stool set in front of the machine and feed it nickels from a metal cup she held.
The machine was green and spun pictures of cherries, oranges, plums, bells, and bars for the chance to win the $7.50 jackpot. You could win five nickels for two cherries or a cherry and a bar. The machine never hit the jackpot, and 18 nickels (for three bells) was the most it ever paid out. Like other one-armed bandits, it was programed to keep you playing without emptying its whole stash of coins.
Grandma loved to gamble! From betting on the horses at the New Orleans Fairgrounds to playing poker or bouree with her lady friends, she loved games of chance when money was at stake. And like most of us, she hated to lose. After depleting her cup of nickels at the slot machine, she’d mutter, “Crooked as a barrel of snakes,” before she’d limp back to her favorite arm chair in the living room or her large wooden rocking chair on the front porch. Then she could let a cup of coffee or a Salty Dog (depending on the time of day) help her forget her losses.
For me, dealing with technology is like pulling that slot machine’s long metal arm and hoping my nickel was not used in vain. When I try to reformat a document or navigate a spreadsheet, my head watches those wheels of cherries, plums, and oranges spin. Will my revised document look centered and pleasing to the eye? Will my saved numbers on my spreadsheet make it to my employer correctly? Who knows? Your guess is as good as mine.
At times the document I spent seventy minutes working on disappears, or the info I emailed to work gets me a reply that explains how I entered information incorrectly.
I’m not a total idiot. Before I retired from full time teaching, I managed my online grade book, and most of my assignments were linked to class calendars. However, I could no way navigate the current issues of a virtual classroom! When I successfully shared my screen during a Zoom meeting with some student teachers I work with, a twenty-one year old had to remind me, “Ms. Gannaway, your mic is on mute again.”
My oldest son helps me with blog posts, and he tries to remember that patience is a virtue. But I hear his deep sighs and see him comb his hair back with his palm before saying, “Mom, what did we do last time we edited an image?”
Back in the ‘90s someone told me, “Don’t be afraid. You won’t break the computer or permanently lose stuff.” Well, I don’t know about that! I often have no idea whether clicking on a link or pressing a return button will have the result I want. The slot machine gears keep spinning and it’s all a game of chance!
I hate the fear and uncertainty COVID has created in our lives. Yet technology and social media put me on uneven ground years ago. SnapChat made me nervous when those weird animated photos all went away in 24 hours. But it’s also unnerving that FaceBook stuff never goes away.
I don’t understand or trust the Cloud and I wish texting had not become my go-to form of communicating. Since I seldom see people in person, I miss hearing their voices.
I’m still more optimistic than pessimistic, so I’ll pull that cold metal arm that sometimes sticks a bit and trust the technological slot machine of life as I say, “Please, Lord” while I cross my fingers and watch the blur of fruit and accept the whirring, spinning uncertainty of now. I never know when several coins will clatter into the pay-off slot.
Momma always kept a balled-up Kleenex in her right hand (or in her pocket).
She used this all-purpose tissue to wipe her drippy nose caused by what she called her “hay fever.” When we were kids, she also used her Kleenex to wipe a snot-nosed child’s face or to stop a scraped knee from bleeding. In the 1960s right before entering our Catholic church for mass, she could use a not-too-crumpled tissue as a make shift head covering for a forgetful daughter who had left her chapel veil at home. I still remember her pinning the white tissue atop my head using a stray bobby pin from her purse. No need for her to fuss at me for my memory lapse. My pin-scraped scalp was punishment enough.
In a way always having the Kleenex on hand is a “Mom thing” – a being prepared thing. (for small spills, runny noses, dirty faces, fresh lipstick blots, minor cuts, or sudden tears).
When Momma was wheelchair-bound and barely talked, she still kept a Kleenex in her hand. After she died, I looked through the small leather purse she had carried everywhere she went. Inside I found her wallet, which held My Daily Rosary prayer card, her drivers license, and her library card. Also, there was a tiny round frame with a picture of my sister Kelly, a half-used Wine with Everything lipstick, a nail file, Double mint gum, and a couple of balled-up tissues. I smiled.
I’ve been going on long walks around 7:15 each morning, and I take along a Kleenex in my pocket. I use the tissue to open the black iron gate that surrounds our apartment complex, to scratch my nose, and to wipe my forehead when the temperature gets in the 90’s.
After my walk, the tissue is ragged and sweaty. It seems to symbolize my fears and uncertainty these days. The tissue keeps me from touching my face or some random object. The Kleenex I shove into my pocket before I venture out (for a walk, to the grocery, on an errand) feels as necessary as a face mask or hand sanitizer.
Either I’m turning into my mother or channeling a parent’s attempt to be prepared for life’s surprises and disasters. If a balled-up piece of tissue gives me comfort, I’ll take it. And I’ll focus on not tripping on the cracked sidewalks while I listen to birdsong and car horns.