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. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Activities Of Daily Living

At Encompass Health (called Health South when I arrived there September 14th) there was a room tucked away off the Occupational Therapy gym and the room was called ADL. Check the title of this essay...

So I have been organizing my routines, not least because the more I do the less my harried wife has to handle. She is doing a lot too making appointments and organizing paperwork, shopping and picking up.  I am about as useless as you can imagine so I am doing my best to not let it get to me. 

I see Key West mostly through the passenger seat of the car which is a drag but exploration will come soon enough after getting the daily activity sorted out. And I am doing better.  My leg is hurting of course but my stamina is improving.  Yay! Anyway my first day out we stopped at Higgs Beach and of course started playing with my big camera. The first time I had my hands on it in months. 

The African Cemetery looked great under the sun on the sand. It’s a fitting memorial, a bit slow in coming it’s true, to mark the landing and subsequent deaths of hundreds of slaves taken from a Spanish slaver. Ultimately the survivors, who were not wanted in Key West were sent to West Africa and dumped.  So this glorious spot marks an inglorious chapter in a tough era. 

Had I had this disaster of my accident occur in 1860 I’d be dead. Mind you so many of us would be too. Something as nasty as a tooth abscess could easily kill you in the bad old days. Nowadays a man with a broken pelvis can get impatient at his fate but a visit to the clinic this morning was a reminder of my good fortune in this modern era. 

I met a 31-year old in an electric powered wheelchair who got shot (circumstances not explained, thank you) a few years ago and he has no prospect of walking.  Ever. We compared notes as has become commonplace for me in my temporary chair. He is numb from the chest down so daily living for him has to be a minor miracle or a major struggle. And there are thousands like him. 

The doctor looked at my paperwork with raised eyebrows. You’ve been through a lot he said looking at me. It’s always disturbing when your injuries get the doctor’s attention but I’m used to it by now. An open book pelvic fracture is a textbook injury apparently. Enjoy it while you see it! He was great, checking my sensations, listening carefully, thinking and explaining. I was glad to be in his care.  He was the first to do the toothpick test on my legs. Pricking to see where sensation ends and my outside right thigh is numb. Nothing to worry about he said.

I’m doing okay all things considered.  Friends have been by, my wife is patient with me and my dog isn’t too mad at the lack of private walks with me. Now I’m trying not to stress about a wedding I have to attend this weekend. I’ll be the guy in the wheelchair.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

What A Clot

Lucky me I got home last night after a terminal scare. I was not ready to go back to the hospital. I imagined myself in a multi bed ward at Lower Keys Medical Center. I couldn’t stand it. I waited my turn at Advanced Urgent Care on North Roosevelt Boulevard. 

My right leg had been giving me trouble swollen and painful all day. Exercise is what it needs so I had gone walking of course and apparently that wasn’t what it wanted so I went to the clinic on North Roosevelt driven by my ever patient wife to see what needed to be done. 

It was a gloomy evening’s entertainment especially considering the original plan which called for a slow walk to Alonzo’s on the Boardwalk for happy hour fish and a mojito. Yeah well my pain and swelling wrecked my wife’s good idea of course.  It was all good after we got the news that there was no blood clot and I went home after a short moment in privatexwith the nurse who quite understood my tears of relief. I really don’t want to go back to the hospital and certainly not Lower Keys which has an abysmal reputation.  Layne was seriously thinking of driving ninety minutes to Mariners in Tavernier. Shit. I’d have gone back to Jackson South...But none of this apocalyptic thinking was necessary and I got a clean bill of health. The drive home was lovely.

I’m drinking more water and walking more steps. I’m getting my routines down and I’m learning to manage my new spaces. Friends came all day Tuesday and kept me up and chatting, catching up on the life I’ve been missing. Wednesday I go to Broga (yes!) for a restorative session, gentle moves on the mat that I will do as able.  I am excited. Then lunch with another friend. How good it is to be home. I am a lucky man ( with a painful leg). 

My boy. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Living Among The Able

Webb Chiles is a man who describes his job as traveling to the edge of experience and then taking the time to send back reports. To reduce anyone to one role in a life lived over several decades would be a disservice but for the purposes of this page today it will do. He saw me doing the same thing in rehab and pointed that fact out to me. And now he wants to know what it’s like being outside. So what is it like living alongside the able bodied?  Tough. Here’s a dispatch. 

Everywhere you look,  they are doing what you can’t. 

You can look through the imperfect windshield of the car (which you can no longer drive) and watch them being: 

They walk, they bicycle, they run, you hobble. See the handicapped sign behind me? I qualify. 

My wife is heroic. She manages my life. She clears my path. She makes being a cripple possible.  Without her I don’t know how I’d cope. You wouldn’t be reading this page for a start. But she also has to hear me cry out with frustration when I pee and miss the bowl. I got good at it in Room 508 in rehab but here the bowl is different. I have to relearn. Easier to pee in a bottle.  Guess who empties it? That’s right. You can’t carry anything when you walk with a walker. Chuck offered me a pink basket to hang off the front. I was half tempted. 

He came by and stepped in to help Darnell assemble my shower bench.  Layne who is shameless and brilliant because of it, asked Darnell to assemble the contents of the box so he got his toolbox, she gave him a second beer and with my advice he assembled it backwards. Hmf. This is some IKEA shit Darnell grunted. By the time Chuck got involved my wheelchair and I were shunted into the background and the two geniuses assembled it wrong a second time. I was on the Percocet Express still and a beer didn’t help. How is it backwards I argued, bored by the drill and the bolts and the mistakes. 

Because, my wife said, if you sat on the bench with the backrest this way you’d have your back to the shower. Unarguable. So Darnell got the drill out for the third time, Chuck held the erection and the rest of us watched as Rusty snored.  Ha my wife said. Michael thought we could assemble this sitting up on the bed. 

The doors are too narrow for my chair. I have to walk which is good for me but hard work. The furniture is low which is hard work for me but I suppose it’s good. The terrazzo  tile floor jangles my nerves but I am coping. Where to wash is awkward but maybe a bowl on the kitchen counter will work in the long term. If you leave your phone on the couch arm I can’t sit down. I need to hold the the couch arm before I lower myself. A phone would slide my hand off into space and I would fall. So small a detail. The night stand can’t be up against the wall. I can’t reach it if it is. On and on.

Like Webb I am not a single note symphony. I am more than a cripple. But my dispatches must come from the edge of experience and right now my experience is right here. And yes, members of the public where we went walking around Higgs Beach were properly deferential and helpful. I have to get used to the notion that sometimes I can’t. Can’t do things. Thanks to the guy in the truck who helped fold and put away my chair in the trunk while I sat lording it in the passenger seat. Thanks to my wife for encouraging me to walk. To test my limits. To feel the burn.

Plus she cooks cleans and organizes my pills. I am a lucky man. But it’s still hard being out in the world. 

It isn’t easy being handicapped but if you have to do it you do.  Ignore them Webb says. He’s right I just keep pressing on. Good advice from a dear friend who cares and has the courage to express it. He makes me feel silly for worrying how I am perceived. As long as I don’t fall I’m doing okay.  Peanut gallery be damned. Thank you Webb.