Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Pop-up Sunday

From 2016 to 2018, I made five trips to Greece to volunteer at the Oinofyta refugee camp. I was usually the oldest volunteer by about 15 years. I didn't have the stamina of the younger people, but I had enough wisdom and life experience to be useful. Friends would say, "Why do you do that?" My response was, "We're all in this together, and I won't always be able to do it." That last phrase, "I won't always be able to do it," came from my brain, but part of me didn't really believe it.

I believe it now.

In the last couple of years my left knee and my right hip have begun to act up. The x-rays show bone-on-bone arthritis in my knee and a bunch of confused and compensating muscles and ligaments fighting each other in my right hip capsule. In spite of orthotics in my shoes, physical therapy, massage, and injections in my knee and hip, I'm sometimes walking like the elderly woman I never believed in my heart I would become. I do a lot of e-bike riding and some swimming, but no hiking and not a whole lot of walking for exercise.

Last year I read about the Arizona Department of Health Services. They were looking primarily for volunteer healthcare professionals but also for interested non-healthcare volunteers, to register in advance so they could rapidly identify and mobilize health care volunteers in emergencies.

I signed up and was accepted as a volunteer, and was contacted twice. Once was to work with a Covid screening project on a Native reservation. But at that time the vaccine wasn't available and, as a person over 65, I was in a high-risk group. Then, when Pima County (where we live, in Tucson, in the winter) opened large vaccine drive-through events, I was invited again. But the shifts were six hours long and I'd be on my feet most of the time, which those same feet would not be happy with. Remember "I won't always be able to do this"?

Then the county opened up pop-up vaccine events. By this time I'd gotten both Moderna shots. I was a January recipient of the first dose because I volunteer one day a week at a local health clinic, so I'm considered a healthcare worker. The pop-up events sounded more doable.

So on Sunday I volunteered for seven hours, from 7am to 2pm, at an elementary school near the airport.  No one had to sign up ahead of time;  they just had to be qualified according to the current Arizona status (anyone over 55, plus front-line workers: grocery store checkers, restaurant servers, etc). There was a drive-through and a walk-in. The venue was in an underserved area of Tucson. I'd say 85 percent of the vaccine seekers were Latinx. We had registration materials in Spanish and English. 

The other five volunteers at the walk-in venue were younger, so when I needed to give my feet a break I sanitized clipboards and pens and collated registration materials to put on the clipboards to send back out with the other volunteers. I'd colored part of my hair blue the day before; I figured I'd look more relevant to the younger people than if I just looked like an old grandma. That turned out to be a good idea!

My feet hurt A LOT at the end of the event, and I went straight home and fell soundly asleep for an hour. My whole body hurt until I went to bed that night. 

I may not always be able to do this!

Thursday, March 4, 2021

This week, next week

We're four days in to our annual visit to Sedona. This year my sons Russell and James were the only offspring who made it - but they're just about the only ones who've never been here before. Russ flew down from Eugene and James came from Seattle. They met up in Phoenix, rented a car and drove the two hours to our timeshare in uptown Sedona. They've been busy - climbed Bell Rock yesterday and hiked Cathedral Rock today. 

The four of us have shared several meals - the first dinner at Cafe Jose, a comfort food place nearby, and tonight, James grilled T-bone steaks, which we ate with a salad and baked potatoes. 

Meanwhile, Art and I are spending our time reading and napping. Art found a new author - Vince Flynn - in the resort library, and I downloaded and read the new Stephen King novel in a day and a half. We're in a single-story villa this year. It's on the second floor, but there's a lift along the stair railing so Art doesn't have to climb the stairs with his sciatica. He looks like an emperor!

Sedona has been a great place for our family to gather over the years. Just a few minutes ago James said, "From now on, Mom, when you're coming here, I'll be coming here too." That's what they all say!

Russ and James leave tomorrow, making a stop at Montezuma's Castle National Monument on the way back to the Phoenix airport. We'll be here for one more night, leaving early Saturday afternoon for our four-hour trip back to Tucson.

This week has been relaxing. Not so with next week's calendar.

Now that Art and I have had our second covid vaccines, and two weeks have passed, we can be more out and about in the world. The asylum seekers' shelter has reopened, and we will be volunteering in some fashion, whether providing meals for the guests or providing airport transportation. Strict covid safety measures are being implemented. I've been asked to join the board for The Inn, and am having breakfast on Monday with the board chair. Diane and I have been friends for a couple of years now, so our meetings are fun. Usually we have breakfast in her back yard, but Monday we'll be at a local restaurant with safely distanced tables.

While I'm at breakfast Art will get X-rays taken of his back. The pain clinic doc wants to a get a close look at what's going on in Art's lumbar spine as he plans next steps. 

In the afternoon the carpet cleaning man is coming, finally. Tucson is a dusty place and I rotate three area rugs in our living room. Right now they are all just about unpresentable. Fortunately, hardly anyone has been inside our place for nearly a year except for us.

Tuesday it's my turn at the pain clinic. I'm getting a shot in my left knee. Hopefully This course of action will prevent a knee replacement for a while. When I got my first shot a year and a half ago, I'd thought I'd pulled a muscle. The doc said, "Nope. Arthritis." It's taken a while, but I've adjusted to the idea that I'm old enough to have arthritis. For some reason I thought that would never happen to me.

Wednesday it's Larisa the Designer Cat's turn. She'll have her annual exam and the vet will probably say, "Well, she's 16, but she's looking pretty good." Over the last 40 years, all but one of my cats has lived a long life. 

Art sees the pain doc on Friday for a consultation. Usually I go with him to his medical appointments. I'm the question asker. These days, only the patient can go in. I've asked Art to call me when he's in the doc's office so I can hear what's going on and ask my questions.

Oh. Also next week each of us has a PT appointment, and each of us is getting a massage.

We're still taking online courses and two are scheduled next week for each of us. Zoom has been a good option for us during the pandemic.

This week, next week. One day at a time, right?

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The chef and the concierge

For nearly all the 29 years Art and I have been together, he has been the food shopper and the cook. 

I was a single mom when we met, working full time and scrambling to get everything done. I had a pantry, but it was mostly empty because I bought groceries on the fly. When he first started spending time with us, he'd arrive with grocery bags full of canned goods, and within a few months he'd stocked the pantry shelves.

I'd been fixing meals for my elementary-school boys for six years by then, but they were simple affairs, dictated by the needs of the kids rather than by any enjoyment I had for cooking. Once Art's three youngest children started visiting (Tuesdays, Thursdays and every other weekend), it was harder. One night his six-year-old son Peter said, "My mom is a better cook." I said, "I'll bet she is!" (She is!). So Art started preparing dinners for everyone, and he has done it ever since.

Art is a coupon clipper and sale shopper. Maybe it's because he was one of ten children in a working-class family. He'll go to five stores and pick up what's on sale that we need. I take my list and go to the closest place. He says, "You don't shop. You buy." So he has done almost all the grocery shopping for 25 years.

Last summer, Art did the electrical work for the remodel of the lower level of our house. He spent a lot of time on ladders, reaching up. He has spinal stenosis in his lower back, and it got aggravated. After three months of pain, he got an epidural cortisone injection, which helped, and then he overdid and reinjured himself. He has been waiting for three months to get another injection. In the meantime, he walks bent over, because that's the least painful position for walking.

For nearly all the years Art and I have been together I have been the person who does the paperwork, operates the computer and talks on the phone. He is a man of few words and I am not, he doesn't like computers at all and I like them enormously. It used to be easier, but now we are older and we need to contact health care providers for appointments and medications and Medicare coverage and coordination of benefits between Kaiser Permanente for the six months each year we live in Washington, and Banner Health for the six months we live in Tucson. 

Recently I've also been the person who gathers the trash to put it at the curb, who retrieves the newspaper most mornings, who changes the overhead lightbulbs on the porch, who rehangs the shower curtain after it's washed. Art hasn't got a lazy bone in his body, but he does have sciatic pain all the way down his legs since his back injury last summer. And, also recently, I've sometimes felt like he was taking advantage of the situation. 

Then I had an insight. I am serving as a concierge to Art. That sounds more positive. And, thinking about it, I acknowledge that he has been my personal shopper and chef for a very long time. Seems fair.

I feel better now that I know I'm a concierge!

Art gets his second epidural injection on Friday morning. It's about time.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

In the Costco parking lot

Sometimes when my husband Art and I are out together, he wants to go grocery shopping because he's seen good sales in the newspaper ads. He'll say, "We can make a quick stop at Costco. And purple grapes are on sale at Fry's." Sometimes I get annoyed because I have other plans afterwards, and he usually hasn't said anything about stopping until we've already left home.

This morning we went to Lot 49 at Tucson Medical Center so I could get my first shot of the Moderna vaccine (I volunteer at the clinic in our retirement community on Thursdays, so I'm considered a health care worker.) I'd invited Art to go along with me because his was scheduled for next week (he's over 75) and I wanted to show him how to get there. I'd Googled the travel instructions and I was pretty sure he'd miss Wyatt, the side street where he'd need to turn right.

The drive-through vaccine line was quite short and the site was well organized. When I got to the place where a young woman asked for my name, appointment time and ID, I said, "Would it be possible for my husband to get his shot today too, instead of coming back next week?" She asked her supervisor, and we were directed to a tent off to the side just in front of us. I asked again at the tent. "Sure, we can do that." I said, "You have made our day." "We try."

So I got my shot and Art got his, and we'll go back for our second dose on February 20. You never know unless you ask, right?

Then we stopped at Costco. I was still annoyed, because I hadn't brought my phone with me. I usually play Candy Crush while I'm waiting in parking lots for Art to shop. 

Sitting there in the parking lot, I thought for a few minutes about the physical therapy appointment I had yesterday. I got a cortisone shot in my right hip several weeks ago, and while the discomfort is much, much less, I want my right leg to get stronger so I can walk distances. And, I'm thinking, maybe if I get physical therapy the inflammation pain won't come back when the injection wears off. I told Andy, the physical therapist at my first appointment yesterday, what my goals were. He did a strength test and said, "Your glutes are atrophied." I said, "How can I have a big butt and atrophied glutes?" He laughed. He gave me two PT exercises that I'd never heard of. They were hard, but not painful. He told me not to overdue it. Twice a day, he said, and come back early next week. 

I was lucky, I thought, to have good insurance that would pay for two sessions a week for six weeks. 

The Costco parking lot wasn't very crowded at 10:00 a.m.  Maybe because today was the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. I turned the radio on to NPR and Kamala was taking the oath of office. I turned the volume up. I opened my car window. I listened to Lady Gaga sing the national anthem. I listened to the commentary. Art was in Costco for half an hour, so I had all that time, alone in my car, to listen and reflect.

I felt full of relief. It was glorious to listen to hope again.

Hope.  What I have because Andy the physical therapist says he can help me. What I have because of the vaccine injected into my arm. What we all have because of our new national beginning.

I'm thinking of the last few lines of the poem spoken today by young Amanda Gorman: "For there is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it - if only we are brave enough to be it."

May it be so!

Friday, January 1, 2021

The gifts of 2020

Wow. What a year.

Many of us have been held captive by the news. Maybe even become news junkies, waiting for the next headline on Fox News, MSNBC, CNN or NPR to raise our blood pressure and our anxiety level. We may swear off and then be drawn back into the melee. That has been the case for me. I said I would only read the news when I first got up in the morning, but then an email would come in from the New York Times or the Washington Post and I'd feel compelled to read it.

In spite of my continued captivity to the news, there were gifts in this unforgettable year. These are mine:

1. We decided to convert the daylight basement of our family home in Brier, a northern Seattle suburb. We'd been talking for several years about making a change in our residence. After five years as snowbirds in Tucson, I was ready to move to Arizona full time, to our small (620 square feet) park model trailer in a retirement community. But Art was not. Born and raised in Seattle, he'd lived elsewhere only during his stint in the Marine Corps in the late 60s. He wasn't ready to make a permanent change. We considered renting apartments or buying a smaller one-story home, but Seattle housing is expensive, and if we were spending half our year in Tucson, the unused Seattle dwelling would be money wasted. Deciding to remodel the basement in our family home was the optimal solution.

2. We had the financial resources to do the remodel.

3. We hired my son James to do the work based mostly on faith that his work ethic would lead to success. We were right.

4. I saw James more often this summer than I have in the last 20 years. I realized that he is now a man of honor, which was a primary goal I had as a parent.

5. Everything in our new apartment was chosen by me, from furniture to teal accent pieces - none of it expensive. There are a LOT of unneeded things still in the garage! My preference for minimalism has a chance in this new place.

6. During the pandemic, I got to choose the degree of risk I was willing to take on. I always wear a mask in public as my contribution to the greater good. I almost always refrain from having any non-household member in my home or in my car. I think I've eaten inside a restaurant maybe three times since March. 

7. I used my first stimulus money to pay rent for an Afghan refugee now living in France. We had the financial resources to do that.

8. On Thanksgiving Day, we had a Zoom call with the kids in our blended family. Six out of eight of them turned up. For a few, it had been years since they had seen each other. I'm pretty sure one of them was watching a football game at the same time. 

9. On Christmas Day we invited two friends to join us for dinner. We set up a large table in the carport and, socially distanced, enjoyed a communal meal of ribeye steaks, cheesy potatoes, corn bread, and green bean casserole, with apple crumble for dessert.

10. On the third-to-last day of the year, I got an ultrasound-guided injection in my right hip. I am looking forward to more frequent walks and better sleep. 

When I look for the gifts, I can always find them.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Four men and their ladders

#1 - Art

My husband Art stopped smoking before I met him in 1992. I asked him how he'd managed to do it, and he said, "It's as easy as falling off a ladder." Apparently he'd broken two ribs when he fell at some point, and it hurt too much to breathe, so he had to give up smoking.

This summer we remodeled the daylight basement of our home in Brier. Art did all of the wiring and electrical work. He was there three times: for five weeks in June, a week in July and three weeks in September. He spent a lot of time on ladders, leaning and twisting and reaching upwards and through.

Art did a phenomenal job on the project, but it was too much for his back. He has spinal stenosis anyway, but his nerves and muscles got inflamed, and he developed sciatica and muscle cramps in his legs. By September he was walking hunched over at nearly 90 degrees because that position lessened his pain. He saw a physical therapist three times, and got a lower lumbar injection which helped somewhat on his left side. 

We returned to Tucson on October 31. About a week later he got a call from the Washington clinic where he'd gotten the lumbar injection, asking how he was doing. He said he was feeling better. They asked if he wanted to get a second shot. He said no. 

A week after the phone call, the shower curtain rod in our tiny Tucson bathroom fell down. Art, ever the handyman, wanted to remount it. He stood for 45 minutes, left foot on the toilet seat and right foot on a chair, while he twisted and stretched upward. Eventually he gave up, in too much pain to continue. It turned out that a small piece of the rod had broken off where it attaches to the wall. I went to a nearby store and bought a new one for $8.99, and our across-the-street neighbor, Mike, came over and put it up in about ten minutes.

It's been a month since then. Art has seen the physical therapist in Tucson and has more exercises to do. He has begun water walking three times a week. He has a cane, a pair of walking poles and walker. His doctor says the walking poles would be the best to use, as it would support him standing up, but he prefers the cane and the walker for some reason. He's been prescribed a couple of medications but they haven't given him the relief he needs.

We are researching a second lumbar spine injection, but his insurance won't cover the procedure here in Tucson until January 1. Otherwise we'll pay cash as soon as we find a doctor here who is available.

All this, and he didn't even fall off a ladder!

#2:  Dick

Dick and JoAnne are friends here in Tucson in our retirement community. One day last month JoAnne went into town to play golf with a few friends. Afterwards they stopped for breakfast at a favorite eatery. Just as the food arrived JoAnne got a call from a neighbor. At home, Dick had decided to put battery-operated lights above the kitchen cupboards. As he was descending on the stepladder, he fell and broke his leg near the hip. He knew he needed to get help. The closest door was in the living room, but there was carpeting, and he knew it would be tough to drag himself across the carpet. So he headed for the kitchen door across the flooring. The door was locked but he managed to get it open and shout for help. A neighbor heard him, an ambulance was called, and he was taken to the hospital. The ambulance had just pulled away when JoAnne got the call. The neighbor wasn't sure which hospital Dick had been taken to. Eventually Dick was located. After surgery to repair the break, and a few days in the hospital - where JoAnne couldn't visit him because of the coronavirus, Dick went to rehab. He is home now, using a walker until his leg heals and he regains his strength. 

Last night four couples gathered for dinner, masked and social distancing. Two of them were Art and Dick, both on walkers.

#3: John

John and Joan are Tucson friends living across town. Last week, John decided to put up the outside Christmas lights. For the first batch, he asked Joan to hold the ladder while he climbed it. Afterwards, Joan didn't realize John had more work to do on the lights, so she went inside. John went back up the ladder. The ladder collapsed and John was left hanging on the tree branches. When he dropped to the ground he sprained his ankle. Apparently John made one more attempt. This time the ladder fell over sideways, and John fell across the ladder on the ground, resulting in multiple bruises.

#4: Al

Al and Bonnie live in our Tucson retirement community. Al's mishap happened some time ago, but I just found out about it this morning.

Al decided to climb a ladder to the roof of the couple's park model mobile home. Bonnie says she didn't know why he needed to go up there, but Al was insistent. The ladder didn't reach all the way to the roof, but on the ascent Al had no trouble reaching it. It was when he was coming down that he got into trouble. He couldn't get onto the ladder from the roof, so Bonnie had to call security to give him a hand. She said Al was pretty embarrassed!

I'm not going to talk about Art and the tree stories. Maybe another time.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Trash talk

My husband Art and I recycle just about everything. He's been known to go through the kitchen trash can in search of items that I've neglected to recycle. One of his endearing qualities, I guess.

At our family home in Brier, Washington, we've been customers of Waste Management Northwest for decades. We have the largest yard waste bin (green), the largest recycle bin (blue), and the smallest trash bin (gray). Art takes pride in rarely having a full trash bin on Wednesdays, when the Waste Management truck comes by at 7:00 a.m. or so.

For the last year we were in Tucson and one of our sons rented the house. We paid the trash bill each month. Then, in May, we started the remodel of the lower level of the house. Son and family began renting the upstairs only. 

In September the remodel was done. We flew to Seattle to spend a couple of months setting up housekeeping. We ordered what we needed - from Amazon, Bed Bath and Beyond, Overstock, Wayfair and other online places - and the boxes began to arrive. We had a lot of boxes to recycle. A lot. We left them at the bottom of the steep driveway, nested. We knew we could leave them at the curb, broken down next to the recycle bin, which was full of everything else to be recycled. Eventually someone took them to the recycling facility at the Lynnwood dump because it would have taken a month or so to get all those boxes to the curb.

One difference between us and our son is that we recycle everything, and they usually don't. So the gray trash bin was full two days after the truck had come by. Full as in the lid wouldn't close. Full as in the crows got into the topmost trash bag, broke it open, and scattered trash and garbage and broke a bottle when it fell to the ground. 

So I called Waste Management Northwest and explained our problem. The very nice lady said that, for $9 a month, we could have a medium-sized bin for the trash. "Leave the bin out as usual on Wednesday," she said. "Later in the day another truck will come by, take your small bin away and leave a larger one." That was great, I thought. 

The next Wednesday we put out the bins. The gray trash bin got emptied, but no truck came by to leave something larger to replace it. That afternoon I got an email from Waste Management, apologizing for not leaving a new bin, and telling us it would happen the next week, and thanking us for our patience.

The next Wednesday, the same thing happened. No new bin, email of apology, promise of next week.

By this time we were up early on Wednesdays, listening for the trash truck. As soon as we heard it drive off, one of us raced out to the curb in our pajamas with a couple of bags of trash. We had asked our son and his family if they would please recycle what they could, and they said sure. So, of course, the recycle bin was full within three days after pickup. So on our Wednesday races to the curb, we carried all the broken-down boxes to go into the recycling bin.

And the next Wednesday. I finally called Waste Management Northwest and asked what was happening. I got a different lady, who was also very nice. "There is a shortage of bins in the Pacific Northwest," she said. "With Covid, and so many people working from home, they all needed bins, so we ran out. And the manufacturing plants couldn't keep up because so many of the people who worked there were sick."

And then, the next Wednesday - two weeks before the end of our trip to Washington - a larger trash bin arrived at the curb.

You would think that, with one family living upstairs and another one living in the new apartment downstairs, the biggest problem would be sharing the laundry room. But it was easy. We had Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and the upstairs people got Monday, Wednesday and Friday. 

We also had to teach Amazon, FedEx, UPS  and the meal delivery services how to find us. Our address on all of them said, "Lower level, right side of house." Apparently the delivery people didn't read the second line of the address. At least twice a week, one of the upstairs people came down with something that had been delivered to their front door. They were good sports about it.

But I'm thinking they were mighty glad when we got on the airplane for Tucson!