Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Blue Hole

I took the photographs on this page on August 28th three days before my epic scooter crash. It was a gloomy damp day typical of summer rainy season and I was looking for a place to walk Rusty away from mud and puddles. Besides I hadn’t visited the Blue Hole, a freshwater former gravel quarry turned into a tourist attraction, in a long time. 

We were alone. And the hole is not st all blue even under sunny skies.

There are a couple of alligators in the water but there was no sign of wildlife at all. No turtles no dinosaurs no birds. Except himself. 

It was a pleasant enough interlude and I enjoyed strolling around with Rusty. I didn’t know how lucky I was to be walking...

It’s a short walk made shorter because half the circumference is closed to the public. The edges are vertical rock and not easy for a dog to climb up.  I know this as Cheyenne took an accidental plunge years ago and I hauled her wet 100 pounds out in double time seeing her as the most vulnerable and tasty of alligator bait. 

No drama necessary.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Taking Pictures

When I was in rehab I’d look out the window of my private room and think about the things I missed. 

I knew what I would miss about being in the institution but I was trying to think about what there had been in my life before rehab  that I wanted to enjoy again. My life at home was obvious. Beyond that I wanted to be able to go outdoors at will and even now in my second week back in Key West I take a keen interest in how the sky looks.

I thought about how I missed my big camera. That’s been a great joy to me especially as I waited a long time before I bought it. I like to feel the absence before I buy stuff on a whim and my Panasonic LUMIX 300 offered me depth of field (“3D portrait mode” in iPhone jargon) and a massive telephoto lense in one compact package along with a lot of other filters and features I might enjoy. And it has indeed worked out.  There’s a fly in the ointment though! 

It’s not the camera that is at fault, it’s me. I have come to realize suddenly that I no longer have the ability to adjust the angle of my shots by much. I can’t always stand or squat or lean. These days I can’t even drive myself anywhere or stop as the whim takes me. I can’t stroll or lean unobtrusively against a light pole. I have to make do. Obviously this isn’t the end of the world but it is another unexpected consequence of not having the use of my legs. I would never have thought of this little problem. 

I am lucky inasmuch as I can stand for a little while without support but I can’t easily go off-road for a picture.  I was hunting a butterfly two days ago but I couldn’t move my walker and juggle the camera in pursuit of the fluttering and darting wings. As it was a little patience got me there. 

Most of my around town pictures are from the passenger seat of the car as I am swept from doctor’s appointment to home and back by my ever patient wife/caregiver/driver. 

And by keeping my eyes open there’s no telling what I’ll spot here and there as she fills a prescription or orders a drive through coffee.

A wheelchair perspective on a newspaper box or  a gnarled  buttonwood trunk. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Good

Yesterday was a very good day. My wife and caregiver is off work this Thanksgiving week so she celebrated by snoring until very late. First she took Rusty for his customary morning run and a good day was presaged by the fact he passed out as soon as they got back. I read in bed with tea provided by the caregiver and we didn’t get up till noon. It kept getting better even for the cripple. 

On Saturday we took Rusty to the vet to have his ear checked and he got a prescription for yeast so he was feeling better by Sunday with no head shaking. After I had a shower which is a major event as I have to lift my leg into the tub and settle on a special shower stool my caregiver dressed the one persistent surgical incision that won’t completely close (and prevents me doing water aerobics). All that done we went downstairs and I took a circuit of the pool which, after one walk round usually I feel exhausted. Yesterday I could easily have gone round twice. Hmm I thought, there’s an improvement. 

With the caregiver caught up on her sleep we implemented Saturday evening’s plan and went for fish at Alonzo’s on the boardwalk. I will be honest and I was a bit intimidated being out in public but I kept repeating Webb’s mantra “You don’t mind and they don’t matter” and off we wheeled. I could have walked from the car but the problem then is can I sit in their chairs? The sitting is easy enough but if the chair doesn’t have arm rests and if it is flimsy will it tip me to the ground as I get up? If in doubt I take my chair rather than the walker. 

The chair magically sweeps away all obstacles and we took an outside table. Just as well as I noticed the doorways to the inside restaurant have substantial steps. It was a perfect evening. Indeed Rusty was snoozing in the car with the windows cracked it was so cool. 
I had my favorite fish fingers which Layne loathes for some reason. But I don’t see going out for fish and only eating shellfish. 

After dinner we went to Truman Waterfront and found ourselves alone in a vast expanse of perfectly manicured lawn and cement paths. It was lovely and much nicer and more laid back than original (Spottswood family) plans suggested. 

All family members requiring exercise got it. And I found a convenient place to sit and rest at one of the exercise stations.

We made ourselves a promise to have sunset drinks on the ship one weekend...must follow through! 

A very good day at home.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Water Into Wine

It wasn’t Cana, rather it was the Lower Keys, but it was a wedding to which I was invited and glad I was to go, not only to get out but also to make happy some friends who have been very, very good to my wife and caregiver in these difficult weeks past. However Paolo Veronese (“Paul from Verona”) and St John the Evangelist came to mind to one educated at Hogwarts such as myself. 

The weather as we shall see was less benign than that shown in the 1562 depiction of the seminal event in Jesus’ brief but drama filled life. He saved the day at Cana in the second chapter of St John’s gospel:

5 His mother said to the servers, "Do whatever he tells you." 
6 Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons.
7 Jesus told them, "Fill the jars with water." So they filled them to the brim. 
8 Then he told them, "Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter." So they took it. 
9 And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom 

10 and said to him, "Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now." 

11 Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him. 

I don’t think the Benedictine monks who educated me would have given me passing grades were my intent here to claim miraculous powers or to put myself on the Savior’s pedestal but as I arrived at the wedding and my wife parked the car on the cement strip reserved for the handicapped I could see the guests eyeing us up to make sure we qualified. I tried to take their glances with the serenity Jesus surely would have employed. Rusty could have come to add to the cheerful confusion but he doesn’t like crowds so his place on the back seat was replaced by my walker waiting to be deployed but first my wife struggled to get the chair out of the trunk. I pulled my legs out of the car and pivoted into my wheelchair.  Oh yes, I qualify for handicapped parking. 

I wheeled myself over to the reception area where we had to put on flower leis to denote membership in the wedding party. Alcohol was next but in an effort to be good I went non alcoholic which only choice was a glass of water. Jolly good. Very refreshing. The event was on the ground floor of the restaurant, and much of the ground was covered in sand with open air tables crammed into cement  in between the stilts which supported the main restaurant upstairs. The tables were those irritating high stool height which, even when you stand seem mountainously tall. In a wheelchair they were barely at eye level. 

My path through was on the scale of a tank division penetrating the Ardennes forest as guests chairs and belongings were swept aside for the mechanized advance to the bar at the back which gave the only solid surface access to the wedding area which was in a sand pit. They did the wedding itself in mime which was lucky as the soundtrack at the bar was rollicking reggae which I rather enjoyed. 

The weather looked non cooperating from a Floridian perspective with gray clouds and wind and threats of rain but if you were visiting from New England the 76 degree afternoon probably looked heavenly, snow and humidity free. 

Weddings are about one thing and even though it was done in mime from a distance I got the idea from the distant handicapped gallery. “ sickness and in health...till death do us part.” The usual. Then the miracle happened. My wife brought me a glass of non alcoholic water and -lo and behold!-  it was wine. I threw caution to the wind and I supped. Food was uncovered and a plate of chicken wings traveled across inaccessible sand and appeared on my wheelchair accessible cement pad. I ate, loaves and fishes style, dunno where it came from. 

We were part of a small contingent of locals, the visible proof of the parents’ migration to lower latitudes and for that reason I was glad to be there. However it was awkward. Aside from the spaces which required flexibility the simple greeting “How are you?” generated momentary awkwardness as the stranger suddenly noticed I was in a chair and thus unlikely in their estimation to be doing great. I’m fine thanks. Even though you, you great strapping thing are looking down at me huddled between my is possible to be handicapped and doing fine at the same time. But youth has its limitations. 

The photographer fell into conversation with me by accident.  Turns out his grandmother broke her pelvis in her 90s and she still likes to garden. We chatted about my experiences in the hospital and his grand mother’s trials. I told the usual jokes about rehab and recovery and I felt a slight bond until I overheard him repeating the story to his wife with wonder in  his voice as though no one in a chair should be capable of making light of his situation. People surprise me. It’s not all blood and guts as you recover sometimes you laugh. Being alive feels pretty good even through rehab.  I missed the comfort of familiarity. I missed Encompass Health.  There I’ve said it.  We were all in wheelchairs. 

The staff were massively helpful and got the empty chair back to the car while I tonked my way back through the Ardennes forest of high chairs using my walker. It caused some distraction as kind people leapt like scalded cats as they noticed the cripple approaching. 

I did my duty. I drank I ate I witnessed the public commitment.  I went out in public a cripple and survived the apartness. I do it again on Thursday at a gathering of people to feast. This has to get easier. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Sammy Creek

My wife offered to drive Rusty and I somewhere so I chose Sugarloaf as my destination, twenty minutes from Key West. 

It was a beautiful afternoon just before the arrival of the cold front so the air was hot and humid as happens before the rain that is on the leading edge of the front. 

I can’t remember the name of the lighthouse visible on the horizon and the cell signal from Verizon is pretty weak this far from the main housing subdivision but if you put American Shoal into Google maps that tiny speck shows up!  The one south of Marathon is Sombrero and Islamorada is Alligator. The newspaper reported the government wants to sell the historic structures as surplus to requirements.

I couldn’t conveniently get my walker or wheelchair out to the gazebos through the gravel but my wife spoke to the man at the table who said he came out here for the peace and quiet he couldn’t find in Key West so I suppose it was a good thing I was forced to keep my distance. 

My family walked ahead. I brought up the rear. 

And found support where I could. 

It was good to be out. And now the cold front has swept through bringing dry air and breezes it is even more so. I have no snow envy. My buddy Robert came by for lunch and mentioned he and his wife plan a trip to Utah to go skiing. The notion fills me with horror. Ice in my opinion belongs in the freezer. 

Friday, November 16, 2018

A Confession

In writing this page almost daily for eleven years I have never quite come to grips with its purpose or its aim, if any. It started out as a way of expressing what I wanted to see on the Internet.  I was sitting up all night roaming the planet, armchair travel in its infancy and seeking out pictures and stories of far flung communities. I didn’t find many and few of the picture blogs lasted so in an effort to walk the walk I took pictures of my home town and posted them. Digital photography was new and inexpensive, blogging was fashionable and I had time.  And so the thing got away from me. 

Key West has always been the draw. Pictures of palms, winter sunshine, aquamarine waters have been the inducement and my words always seemed to me to be an appendix. This format gave me enormous freedom and I took advantage of it. I did it for me, to give me an excuse to leave the house, like the journalist I used to be it became a way to poke my nose in places I’d normally be too shy to look. I never really thought too much about the people who looked at the page. A friend once asked me would I do the blog if no one read it and I was puzzled by the question. Readers? Who are they? Which demonstrates the depth of my own stupidity I suppose. For a smart guy I am pretty dim. Me “walking” the parking lot at work: 

I have always been shy and the notion that people read this page with interest was too overwhelming to think about. I posted and disconnected myself from what I put on the page. My fall back position was to take pictures and I thank you all for putting up with photography that has struggled to improve over the years. These days digital pictures especially in small pixel format are quite acceptable and modern digital cameras are completely capable of producing pictures well worth viewing. I look from my wheelchair  everyday to find a decent picture to post as pictures are my trademark. I have always wanted to be a photographer and you are my unwilling victims as I seek out the inner artist.  I feel your pain!  Some pictures are terrible but  they  tell a story. I trust you lot to differentiate between the composed art and the wobbly story teller. This one I snatched from the passenger seat of the car. Had I been able to stop and compose I think it would have been decent.  As it is it reminds me of my first view of Garrison Bight in three months...the higgledy piggledy world of liveaboard living that passes for boating in a town that is too expensive to live in. 

My brush with death and all the subsequent struggle to live has opened a new chapter not only in my life but on this page. It did occur to me that this life experience was worth recording and so I did. I photographed my recovery with my iPhone and I wrote about it here in greater detail than I ever did in Facebook posts of course. Some pictures I didn’t publish I have in the Google cloud to remind me of pain and fear I didn’t always make public. I guess in a sense I went for broke and told everything here in a way I never had previously about my life in the Keys. The response, for a shy man, has been overwhelming. 

This will pass and I shall walk again and I will be back in my Key West world and it will appear here as it always has. My view of my life has changed naturally and I hope if you have been following this bizarre tale of medical recovery you are better equipped to plan ahead and think about what a tenuous thread it is that we call life. Trust me on this though. I am not Superman and I am not specially equipped to survive major injuries.  If I did it you can too if you are ever faced with such a disaster. Lots and lots of us very ordinary people face these kinds of trauma and they also persevere, less publicly but they have faced these same issues and live good lives. Be reassured that if it happens to you, you have what it takes to come out the other side. 

Meanwhile I am excited to be back with the great good fortune to have a life to live a job that starts again in a couple of weeks and all of you living good lives out there dipping into this page from time to time to see how much I have mucked it up. The big lesson is it can all be snatched away. The small lesson is we make the most of it. And I shall continue to work on improving my pictures. Thank you for following along. It does matter to me that you are there. It took a rather large disaster to open my eyes but they are wide open now, no doubt about that. We are all in this life together.  I’m just sending wordy illustrated dispatches from the edge. I hope they entertain and maybe offer something of use to you. I shall do my best.