Monday, October 11, 2021

The Bag Lady has an Afghan friend

In 2016 and 2017 I volunteered at a refugee camp in Oinofyta, Greece.  The majority of the residents were Afghans. There were about 500 people living at first in tents and then in small rooms built within an abandoned chemical plant. Volunteers worked long days with Afghan families. 

I made a few Afghan friends. When they moved on - to Switzerland or Germany or France - or settled in Greece - I kept track of them, mostly through Facebook.  I've also stayed in touch with some of the other volunteers. Most of these people are quite a bit younger than I am, and I like how that connection benefits us all.

I developed a bond with one of the Afghans. Nadim was a scientist in Herat, Afghanistan. His life was suddenly in danger, so he left his city the next night with his wife and four children. They endured the typical hardships of a refugee family and arrived at Oinofyta, where they stayed for over a year. They now live in Germany where they are safe. Nadim has been a good friend to me and has given me wise counsel on multiple occasions. And I have done the same for him. He calls me his American mother. We talk on Facetime every few months. He speaks fluent German now, and I tell him we need to talk more often because he will lose his English otherwise. He speaks Farsi at home and German in his community. He speaks English with me.


I participate in a Zoom meeting on current events on Wednesday afternoons. Everyone at the meeting lives - or has lived - at the Voyager RV Resort in Tucson, where we spend our winters. Right now we're in Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New York and Washington, but most of us will be back in Arizona within a month or so.

Back in August, when the Taliban swept through Afghanistan and the US withdrew in haste, the current events group had its discussion. I told the group about my friend Nadim, and I asked if they would be interested in having him join us for one meeting, so they could ask questions. It would be noon in Arizona and 9 pm in his German village. They were interested. So I asked Nadim if he'd be willing to do that. He said, "Yes, and I will ask my sister also. She is a Ph.D. scholar in Herat and her speciality is political science and diplomacy." I have learned to trust Nadim, so I said okay. He set up a Facebook group for the three of us.


When I had my first conversation last month with his sister Samira, she was living in Herat. One day she went to the market with her young son and on the way they saw a body hanging from a crane. She sent me a picture. I knew this was happening in Afghanistan, but seeing it in such an immediate way was jarring.

Two nights later Samira told me that she and her family had left Herat in the middle of the night. She'd been an activist and she'd gotten word that the Taliban was searching for her. The family was on the road for several days "in many cars and many buses" and crossed the border into Pakistan. At a hotel that night, they were robbed of all their possessions and their papers. She had made copies of the papers on her phone. She was distraught when she talked to me; she said if she'd known how bad it would be she would have stayed in Afghanistan. Within a couple of days, though, the family arrived in Islamabad and found lodging.

Samira wants to go to Germany or the US to live, where she and her family will be safe.

I spent some time with my friend Mr. Google, looking up the various ways people can be accepted in the United States. Here are the most promising paths for Samira:

  • Employment Second Preference (E2): Professionals Holding Advanced Degrees and Persons of Exceptional Ability. Samira has a Ph.D, and years teaching political science and developing women's programs,  If she is offered a job by a college or university in the US, the school can sponsor her for a visa. I told Samira about this, and when I woke up the next morning she'd sent me a CV and cover letter that knocked my socks off. Finding the school will be a project.

  • Humanitarian Parole You may apply for humanitarian parole if you have a compelling emergency and there is an urgent humanitarian reason or significant public benefit to allowing you to temporarily enter the United States. Anyone can file an application for humanitarian parole. Samira will need a sponsor for this option. You must include a Form I-134, Affidavit of Support, and supporting documentation with each humanitarian parole request. This form serves as evidence of a sponsor who has agreed to provide financial support to the parolee while paroled in the United States. There may be multiple sponsors, the beneficiary may self-sponsor, or an organization may support the parolee by submitting a Form I-134. [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services]
I told Samira about these possibilities.

Samira is 33. She told me her dream was to be the first female president of Afghanistan by the time she was 40. I think anything is possible.

Today when I gave her the information about humanitarian parole, she said, "You are so kind." I said, "That is probably what the women you have helped say to you. Right?" She said, "Yes."

It amazes me how chains of circumstance link my life to so many others. I continue to believe that we are all in this together, and we are all the same.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Impatient patient

 I was pretty sure I'd be ahead of the curve in my recovery from hip replacement surgery. I like to go and do and I was eager to get on with my life. For the most part, I was compliant with the instructions of both surgeon and physical therapist.

One thing I wasn't told - or don't remember- was not to get down on the floor for the first four to six weeks. So one evening I put my padded yoga mat on the floor to do a PT exercise called "bridge" - where you bend your knees, tighten your abs and your buttocks, and make a shallow arch with your back. It was easier to do on the floor than on my bed because there was more back support on the floor. When I started to get up - difficult even before hip surgery - something in my hip area complained, kind of like the soft twang of a rubber band. I cried out and Art came over and helped me up. I was pretty scared that I'd dislocated something.

I guess I had a setback in my healing. Using my walker had gotten more comfortable before the floor episode, but afterwards there was more pain when I put weight on my right leg. I'd been able to get the leg into bed on my own, but afterwards I needed Art's help to lift it. And medication didn't seem to help. 

After five days I called the surgeon's office. The person asked me some questions - is your range of motion in PT still good? (Yes). Are you having trouble sleeping at night? (No). Their conclusion was, "Well, you probably aggravated the hip when you got down on the floor.You need to ice more, elevate more, and don't overdo it. Take 650 mg of Tylenol every six hours." I'd hoped they'd say, "Come right in and we'll take x-rays to make sure all is well." But they didn't. Maybe they didn't care about me now that I'd had the surgery. I'd need to wait until my six-week follow-up appointment with the surgeon on October 5 to find out what was going on. Maybe it would be too late by then.

So I iced more and I elevated more and I took the Tylenol. 

I talked to my nurse practitioner in Tucson. She asked where the pain was and I said it was in my groin. She said, "Well, you have spinal stenosis, and you had that groin pain before the hip replacement. Your left knee and back and right hip have compensating mightily for the last couple of years. Your body needs to adjust to this new configuration. Ice and elevate and WALK."

When I got out of bed this morning and went into the bathroom with my walker, for the first 20 steps I had NO PAIN. It's come and gone since then today, but I finally believe I will heal.

Here's what happened to me, as a person in pain who was told to take it easy:

  • I yelled at my husband twice in one day because he didn't bring my ice within five minutes after I asked for it.
  • I spent hours lying on the bed brooding.
  • I persuaded myself that no one cares about me now that I'm not "going and doing".
  • I ate extra - especially graham crackers and peanuts.
  • I drove to the dentist one day, when the only way I could get my right foot from the accelerator to the brake was by lifting my leg with the fabric of my pants. This was after the floor episode; the week before I'd gone to the grocery store with no trouble. Our ortho nurse son Peter, when he heard about it, said, "NO, Linda, you don't drive until you have your six-week appointment with the surgeon." He actually rolled his eyes right in front of me.
  • I gave my husband the silent treatment because we are supposed to be decluttering and he isn't enthusiastic enough about it. I'd go so far as to say he's stonewalling, but it's harder because I can't do much of it myself. I have this idea that we should be done by the time we leave for Tucson on November 1, hip replacement or not.
  • I complained daily about how hard it was to carry anything when I'm using my walker, since it doesn't have a basket or a seat. So I'd use one hand to carry something, like my laptop, and limp along with only one hand on my walker.
I have been a delight.

Actually, as my friend Diane pointed out, I'm seeing the glass half empty for the first time in ages. Usually I'm an optimist. I was grateful that she just described my behavior rather than scolding me for it. And I've had visits from Gail and Marilyn and Pam, friends from my church. Gail has brought food and Marilyn has brought groceries and Pam has brought food. They seem to like me just as well as before. And phone calls from Ellen and Connie. Those are good things.

I'm remembering my pain-free walk this morning and, for right now at least, feeling inklings of hope.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

The Bag Lady has a new hip

Nine days ago I had my right hip replaced. I'd been experiencing worsening pain in my right hip, lower back and left knee for three years. When X-rays this May confirmed "severe degenerative osteoarthritis" in my right hip as the primary cause of my pain - not my back or my left knee - I decided to have the hip replaced.

It's been an experience.

  • I wasn't nervous or worried. I'd watched a YouTube video the night before the surgery so I could see exactly what happened - an actual filming. I thought it was pretty interesting. It would be an anterior approach - a four- or five-inch incision in the front of my upper thigh. In this method, the muscles are moved aside for the surgery, rather than being cut. It makes for a quicker recovery time.
  • I checked into the hospital at 10:30 a.m. and left at 10:00 p.m. A day surgery!

  • None of this counting backward from one hundred from the anesthesiologist. He gave me a spinal injection, I felt my leg getting numb, and that was it.   

  • I'd had a tooth pulled last month so that when I was intubated for the surgery I wouldn't have a risk of aspirating the tooth. Needn't have worried. I wasn't intubated.
  • For the first 48 hours after the surgery I was slightly loopy, but felt good enough for a visit from my sister and brother-in-law. We ordered takeout from a local Italian place and the lasagna was delicious.
  • Days 3 and 4 were horrible. All the medications from the surgery had worn off. The medication I'd been prescribed for afterwards didn't seem to be working. This was the first major surgery of my life, so I didn't know there would be a lot of pain. The doctor had warned me there would be some, but I had forgotten.  I was supposed to hydrate, but if I did I'd have to get up and walk to the bathroom. I hated when the physical therapist who came to our house the day after surgery told me I needed to walk at least every two hours. Didn't she know how much it hurt? I needed help getting into bed and getting into the shower and putting on my pajamas. The grab bar by the toilet was set an inch too far back. Stepping into the shower with my right leg meant I had to lift my foot a little, and that hurt. 
  • My husband Art was my primary caregiver. Two months past his own back surgery, he did the best he could but it wasn't enough. I yelled at him twice - and I'm not a yeller. I remember saying, "Right now this is supposed to be all about me, not all about you." That was because he took a nap one morning and couldn't hear me when I called for help. I'd needed him for five days to cook, prepare the ice machine, help me into bed, get me water, do the laundry, cook the meals, feed the cat, supervise my shower. My control issues were on full display, and they were not pretty. At all.
  • On Day 5 things turned around. The physical therapist who came to our house watched me walk and recommended a couple of simple foot exercises to tweak my gait. And the nurse who called to review my medications adjusted what I would take, and when. Fine tuning of my PT and my meds made a huge difference.
  • Each of the last three days has been a little better. I cooked one night and did the dishes another. I can take my own shower and put on my own pajamas. Two days I got dressed. Today Art and I went out to brunch. I'm reading for pleasure again and watched TV last night. Yesterday my walker and I took a bag of trash up our hilly driveway to the curbside bin. My PT is getting easier. Tomorrow I go to the clinic for new exercises and reinforcement.
  • My friend Gail had asked how she could help. She visited me four times in the first five days: made a pot of steel-cut oats, fixed a big bowl of quinoa with fruit and nuts, changed the sheets, spoke in a quiet and friendly voice, and listened to me complain. As far as I know, she is still my friend! Another friend, McKenzie, stopped by with Starbucks and orange juice and homemade zucchini bread. Each time I've posted on Facebook I've gotten encouragement and congratulations from friends from all over. I've gotten phone calls to check in on me and brighten my mood. I've been counseled by my nurse sister Alyx and my nurse sons Russell and Peter.
All in all, I'm lucky. And grateful.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

It is what it is

My hip replacement surgery, scheduled for tomorrow (August 18) at Kaiser Permanente in downtown Seattle, required a number of things to be done first: a dental checkup, a physical exam, a covid test, an online learning course, designation of a caregiver, and no anti-inflammatory medications for the seven days before. I did all of those things. The toughest has been doing without a medication that did much to relieve the joint pain.

This morning I was awakened by a call from Kaiser. "Your surgery has been cancelled because we have no beds available. The will be, instead, on Friday, at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue. They will be contacting you."

I'm waiting for that call.

Life happens, you know!

Friday, July 30, 2021

All the Things

It's been a month since I last wrote a blog post. Usually that kind of a delay is because not much is going on. This time it's because so much is happening.

Art had his back surgery about seven weeks ago. 

  • Yesterday he drove for the first time in six months. His right leg is strong enough now, and he's not in any pain. This achievement will free me up a bunch. Yesterday he had a massage appointment at the end of a series of errands we'd run, and he would be late if he dropped me off at home. If I went with him I'd be sitting in the massage waiting room for an hour. Instead, he dropped me at an intersection a half mile from our house, then went on his way. And I walked home. It was wonderful to have him out and about without me! 
  • He has cooked breakfast for me twice in the last week, and he stacks the dishes after dinner each night.
  • He has repotted tomato starts and watered the garden.
We are rehoming many things stored in the garage. I spent three days going through correspondence I'd saved:
  • Letters from my grandparents to each other between 1912 and 1925; I gave them to a cousin who carries the family name. Both of those grandparents died before I was born. 
  • A box containing all the letters I wrote to my parents when I was in college; my mother saved them. I read them all, then threw them away. I was a little chagrined by their common theme: I had been too busy to write, and I was overloaded with work, and I was dating various guys, and I needed more money. 
  • Cards from a man I'd loved between my marriages; he died in 1989. I saved all those cards and also the journal I kept during that time.
We donated 15 cans of latex paint to Ridwell, a recycling organization we belong to. And Art will be contributing windshield washing fluid, antifreeze, three sets of snow chains, and other man things. He wants to be sure none of our kids wants them, but we only have one more kid to go through them.

I went through all the Christmas decorations. My older son was interested in "the ones we had when we were kids." I sent him pictures and he said yes or no. I have a box for him with about 20 ornaments and books. The rest I re-homed through Buy Nothing Brier, a Facebook group I belong to in my town. The leftovers went to Goodwill. I saved only four ornaments. I'll take them to Tucson and hang them on our little tree in the window this winter.

I contacted the Dispute Resolution Center in my county. I was certified as a mediator through them and wondered if they needed me, and they said yes. I was especially interested in small claims court, in which I've mediated many times. These mediations are currently being done on Zoom, so I said I'd log in next Tuesday as an observer to see how it's done, and then sign up. Small claims happens once a month, and I can do it remotely, from Brier or Tucson. The lady told me that when the rent moratorium expires, the State expects to be overwhelmed by court cases, so people will have to go through mediation before appearing in court. That will also happen on Zoom. It sounds interesting to me, so I'll attend one online training session before I start that. I love mediating - I've been doing it as a volunteer for over ten years, plus I use it just about every day in real life.

And then there's this story. A friend of mine has a son who's a drug addict living on the streets. One day last month she saw some unhoused people near where she knew her son was living. She showed a couple of them his picture and asked if they knew him. One man pointed at someone lying in the dirt nearby, sleeping, and said, "that's him." My friend walked over to her son and lay down on the ground beside him. She asked him if he'd like to come home and get some food and take a shower and he said yes. Later that evening he decided he wanted to get clean, so she found a detox center for him, and she and her husband drove him there. The son was there for four days and then transferred to an inpatient treatment center. My friend sent him a box of clothes, and a week later the package was returned. The son had left the treatment center after three days and returned to the same location on the streets. This happens a lot. The image I keep in my mind is my friend lying down in the dirt beside her son. I am filled with admiration for her courage and her love, and grateful to have such friends.

All the things. After five months of being Art's advocate and caregiver, I am gradually reentering my life in the world. 

And, three weeks from now, I'll have my hip replaced in a day surgery. Once I've recovered from that, I'll be able to ride my bicycle and walk my neighborhood or further. Maybe even hike in the desert this winter.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

What the dentists said

I have a dentist in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico who takes care of my teeth during the six months we're in Tucson each year. And I have a dentist in Lynnwood, Washington who I see the other six months. I see the Mexican dentist in November and March each year (very good and much cheaper, but 95 minutes away by car.) I see the American dentist in June or July. Three cleanings a year, carefully scheduled.

In March I was at the Mexican dentist and I was told that one of my top right midway-to-the back teeth, previously fitted with a crown, needed to be extracted and replaced with an implant and another crown. I decided to wait until next season because there was a three-month lag between the extraction and the implant, and I was leaving before three months. The tooth was a little loose sometimes but I figured if I paid attention I could keep in my mouth for six more months.

In May when I returned to Washington, I learned that I need to have my hip replaced. I am scheduled for August 18. One of the pre-surgical requirements is a release from my dentist that I don't have any infections in my mouth. I decided to use my summer appointment for cleaning and a signoff by the dentist.

Yesterday I went for my checkup. The dentist looked at my mouth and said there was no infection, but my iffy tooth was a little wiggly and he was concerned that  when I was intubated during my hip replacement the tooth could break and I could aspirate it. He recommended removing the crown and filling what remained of the tooth so it would be stable for the hip surgery. Then I could have the implant done next fall in Mexico, and get the crown in Mexico in the winter. One advantage would be I could have the work done in two different calendar years, which would make better use of my dental insurance. 

We decided I would come back today for my cleaning and that tomorrow he would do the filling.

I arrived at noon today for my cleaning and there had been a cancellation right after my appointment, so the dentist asked if I would like to have him do the filling today so I wouldn't have to come back tomorrow. I said yes. 

He removed the crown and saw immediately that there wasn't enough tooth left to fill. The tooth would need to be pulled as soon as possible. My hip replacement is in about six weeks, so I only had a couple of weeks to get the extraction to have enough recovery time before the surgery. 

He said he'd give me a referral to an oral surgeon, or he could do the extraction today. It looked like a pretty simple job to him.

I said do it today. 

He asked if I wanted to have a bone graft. I asked why and he said it would increase the odds for the implant to work, since there would be a difference of several months between the extraction and the implant, and the remaining teeth start to shift after an extraction. He said it would cost $400 and that insurance wouldn't cover it. I asked where the graft would come from. He said a cadaver or a cow.

I said do the bone graft. If the implant didn't work I'd have to have a bridge and  I don't want that.

I got moved from the cleaning room to the extraction room. I got several numbing shots. The dentist and his assistant worked on my tooth for 45 minutes. The remaining half inch of root - which had had a previous root canal - gave up after a lengthy struggle. The dentist said, "I'm not going to charge you for the bone graft. This took much longer than I led you to believe."

I got stitched up and, with gauze pressed into my mouth, I left to have the antibiotic prescription filled. I looked weird with gauze sticking out of my mouth but I had a mask on so no one noticed. I go back in ten days to have the stitches removed. The dentist will make sure I don't have an infection and then he'll sign off on the dental exam part for my hip replacement.

That's the plan, anyway.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Summer gratitudes

 A list again! 

1. Art's laminectomy was successful. The back surgery was done on L1-L2 and L3-L4. We checked in at noon and checked out seven hours later. He could already move his legs by then.

2. Art had been in a wheelchair since our return from Tucson to Brier six weeks earlier. Three days ago he put the chair in the corner of the room and is now using a walker. He be starting PT in a couple of weeks to strengthen his legs and walk on his own. He is off all his pain medications and his only complaint now is that his incision itches. I can live with that one!

3. We had help for the first three days post surgery, as I had planned. Everyone showed up and they were all magnificent. Thanks to Art's sister Mary, my sister Alyx, Art's daughter Melissa and his sons Jason and Peter.

4. I only had one meltdown, but I ran away from home for two hours and then I was over it. I had continued my caregiving role post surgery, and since Art could now get around without pain, he didn't need it to the same extent I was offering it, and he let me know. I've backed off somewhat now and no longer cater to his every wish. He's mostly reading the paper, working the puzzles, and watching TV as he waits for PT to start.

5. It's my turn! I have an ortho consult for my bad hip in just two more days.

6. Our two-family residence is exceeding even my best hopes. We see Jason and Kalei and Kaleb - the "upstairs people" - nearly every day. They are being really kind, picking up the mail and sharing their meals every few days. And when they have multiple loads of laundry on "their" days, I move loads from the washer to the dryer or I fold; it's only six feet from our door. The best part is when one of them comes downstairs just to chat. Jason told us yesterday that when he tells people his dad and stepmom live downstairs, sometimes they go "uh-oh", but Jason tells them it's really working out well. So it isn't just me thinking that.

7. Jason is doing yardwork now that it's summer and nearly every plant in the yard is going berserk. Yesterday he brought in a bowl of radishes and strawberries from the garden for us. I'm looking forward to later in the summer when Art and I can both spend time outside. Maybe we'll even be able to help out.

8. When we lived upstairs, we had two sets of Corinthian wind chimes and a  fountain on the porch. They're not being used now, so I've asked them to be brought downstairs and set up for us. I love the sound of the chimes. It's not windy here very often, so the chimes give us that notice of a weather change. And the porch fountain will provide a drink for the birds and bunnies and other critters who share our property with us. 

9. I have been doing the cooking for nearly three months now, and I have to confess I usually like it. If I'm too tired there's always scrambled eggs and toast or soup. What I don't like is meal planning and shopping, but we use boxes from Sun Basket, Hello Fresh and Home Chef. Once a week we go online, decide which company has the most interesting meals, tell the other two "no thanks this week" and order what we want. So the deciding is already done when the box arrives. It is a little pricey, but it's worth it for the aggravation I don't have, and the shopping. We've been doing this for three years now.

10. We're just about at the end of the rain and heading into Washington's dry season at the same time as the days are longest. That is wonderful.

For today, life is good.