Finally, A Plan For The Planner, by Rich Paschall

Bill woke up refreshed on another warm and pleasant Florida morning.  As he lie awake staring at the window shades, he wondered what time it could possibly be.  In retirement, Bill did not worry about such things as alarm clocks.  Yes, he had one just in case he needed it, but he tried never to set it.  This Monday, however, Bill did have something he wished to do.  So he decided to get up and start his week.


Not far away, at the county hospital, Harold was barely conscious.  He had been transferred from Intensive Care to a regular hospital room.  It was a trip from one bland room to another, although the current room did not contain so many machines humming and whirring, not that any of the noise was noticed by the recovering retiree.

The previous Monday Harold was brought to the emergency room.  He had a stroke on Monday, or perhaps even the day before, no one knows for sure.  Harold was not talking and they could only make a guess.  The paramedics told a neighbor it did not seem to be a long time, but they were not sure.

Bill, and nosey Mabel Crockett, were the only neighbors who knew where Harold had gone.  Neither knew of any of Harold’s friends or relatives, so Harold had to lie for a week in Intensive Care while Bill tried in vain to get news.  Now he could finally go and see his retirement friend.

In truth, Harold was not in much better shape, but since he had moved to a regular room, he was allowed visitors.  As no one had been notified, there was no one to visit Harold until now.  Even though Harold had been a master planner in his profession, he had never planned for a life event of this magnitude.  As a result, his future was in the hands of strangers to whom he could not communicate.

When Bill had finished his morning routine, including a light breakfast, he prepared for a trip to the hospital to see Harold.  All through the previous week, Bill had tried to see Harold and was turned away on every occasion.  He was not a relative and since there was no medical power of attorney or permissions granted, no one besides the medical staff could see old Harold.

At the moment Bill was ready to give up on Harold the previous week, a hospital volunteer slipped him the word the Harold had improved and would earn his way to a regular room.  Now Bill was ready to go find out of Harold could tell him anything about friends or relatives.  Just who should be notified.

Heading to the medical center

Heading to the medical center

Bill drove through the light traffic to the county hospital and parked in the multi-level parking garage.  It seemed that all of the spaces on the first two levels were reserved for staff or the handicapped so Bill drove up and parked near the elevator.  He rode down, walked across the roadway that lead to the Emergency Room, and entered the hospital.

The same receptionist who Bill saw everyday the previous week was on duty, but this time she was able to give him some information and a room pass.

“Good morning,” she said upon seeing Bill.  “You will want to go to the fifth floor and when you get off the elevator, go right and down to room 502.”  At that she handed Bill a room pass and instructed him to return it when he came down.

“Hello,” Bill said with a smile when he was finally able to jump in.  “Thanks,” he continued as he took the pass and headed to the room.  Oddly enough, no one ever asked to see the pass that Bill stuck in his pocket.

Dana Farber lobby

When Bill arrived at the room he discovered a whole group of medical people around Harold’s bed.  They seemed to be discussing their plan of recovery for Harold.  They all spoke as if Harold was not even in the room.

“He’s already been here a week and there is only slight improvement in motor skills,” one doctor announced to the gathering.

“We believe his cognitive skills will return to full capacity,” another doctor chimed in, “but only time will tell for sure.”

A nurse stated that Harold was being fed by a tube in the stomach because he was incapable of eating.  The brown liquid in the bag hanging overhead would have to do  for a while.

As the discussion of Harold’s condition, both good and bad, continued, Bill asked the nurse if he could see her in the hall.  “Can Harold hear what all of you are saying?”

The nurse explained that Harold might be able to hear but perhaps he could not follow along too well because of the medication.  “Then don’t you think we should be careful what we say about his recovery?” Bill wanted to know, trying to make a point she did not understand.

“Yes,” the nurse replied in a cheery voice, “please be careful what you say.”  A frustrated Bill walked back into the room where the discussion of Harold’s condition continued.

A physical therapist discussed rehabilitation plans.  This was followed by a speech therapist.  She not only spoke of the relearning to talk, she also discussed the work that would be necessary to teach swallowing.  This act that we all take for granted would have to be relearned following the paralyzing affect on one side of the body.

An occupational therapist was the next to speak.  There would be a need to practice typical household chores, such as reaching for cans and bottles and opening them, preparing food, and doing every day tasks.

All of the therapists and doctors announced a schedule they would follow each week.  They discussed a timetable for success and how much they had hope to accomplish in an optimal situation.  As they left the room, Bill tried frantically to ask how long this would take and if Harold would fully recover.

As that was taking place, a slight smile appeared on Harold’s face.  The Midwest planner was pleased at the extensive day to day plan they had laid out for him.


I have a rash. It itches. Occasionally it hurts, but mostly it itches so much I’m ready to tear my skin off. Cortisone (or chemical equivalents) help, but nothing cures it. What is it?

I don’t know. I’ve had it for my whole life as did my mother before me. More than 20 million people suffer from itching skin rashes of unknown origins. Most, like mine, come and go with no obvious cause. Medical science has made not an iota of progress in curing the problem. Whatever it is.

Life is not a bowl of cherries

Life is not a bowl of cherries

Until a couple of weeks ago, it only attacked areas of my body that are normally covered by clothing. At least I didn’t have to suffer the indignity of answering the time-worn question: “Oh my God, what’s wrong with you?” Or, the ever-popular: “What the hell is THAT?”

Thank you for sharing your horror at my condition. Recently, my eczema or dermatitis (take your pick, it’s been called both) spread to my right forearm. I admit it’s not pretty, but it isn’t contagious and it won’t kill me. It may, however, drive me insane with the itching.

If it hurt, I could ignore the pain, but itching? Itching blocks all other sensations. All you can think about is how much you’d like to scratch. You know if you start scratching, it will get worse, though sometimes that doesn’t seem possible.

  1. Try not to look horrified.
  2. Don’t stare.
  3. Do not let your jaw drop and tongue loll. That is most unattractive.
  4. Do not ask “Doesn’t that bother you?” Of course it bothers him/her/me.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the concern, but if you look sufficiently awestruck at the rash on my arm, I will feel obliged to give you my entire spiel on rashes, the history of how dermatology has made no significant advance in treating itching skin conditions.

Eczema or dermatitis of unknown origin, also called “contact dermatitis” (contact with what?) is really common. There is a very good chance that you will — at some point in your life — have a rash that itches. It will be red and ugly.


You will have no idea what caused it. Your doctor will have no better idea than you. Over-the-counter cortisone cream won’t help much. The slightly stronger prescription goop from your doctor will help slightly (but not much) more.

Coal tar soap and ointments may also help to lessen the itching while making your skin soft and smooth.

Eventually, your rash will go away. For a while. But, like General MacArthur, it will always return. And the next time someone asks me “What’s that?” I’ll tell them: “It’s leprosy. Easily controlled by antibiotics.” That’ll end the conversation in a hurry.


A good friend in Texas who used to live here in New England is fighting a lonely battle in her town for the right of women to retain control over their bodies. Texas is the front line of the war against women, a war I thought we’d won years ago with Roe V. Wade and the end of (formal, official) discrimination against women in the workplace.


She and I remember the bad old days. We were there together. The days of backroom abortions performed with chlorine bleach, coat hangers and turkey basters. When sepsis or perforation of your uterus was not an unusual price to pay to end a pregnancy. Where young women, unable to obtain an abortion, threw themselves off bridges rather than bear an unwanted child. Or tried to abort themselves, with lethal results.

Despite self-righteous conservative braying, backlash and brainwashing, having an abortion was not and is not a sign one is irresponsible or anti-life.


Women have (and always have had) abortions for all kinds of reasons including fear for their health, welfare of existing children, and of course, economics, AKA survival.

While birth control isn’t 100% reliable, the men trying to stop women’s access to abortion are also determined to prevent us from getting effective birth control. If there is any logic to this, I fail to see it.

What’s the real point?

It has nothing to do with life or the right to be born. It’s about power. About putting women in their place so men can regain the control they have lost. Back to the kitchen for us, barefoot and pregnant. If men had babies, you can be sure this would not be happening.

I had an abortion that wasn’t an abortion, thus retaining plausible deniability.

My husband was in the hospital. He had cancer. It was so early in the pregnancy — less than 4 weeks — tests were negative, so technically, I couldn’t have an abortion. But I knew.

It was the worst time to discover myself pregnant. I didn’t know if my husband would live. (He didn’t live long.) We were financially maxed out. I had gotten into a highly competitive master’s program — more than 2000 applications for a couple of dozen spots — and I would not be able to accept. I looked at my life and thought: “I don’t need more education. I need a job.” No matter how I tried to fit the pieces together, a baby was not in the picture.

I had a “menstrual extraction” which was what you got when the test read negative but you knew otherwise. It was done in a doctor’s office. Without anesthesia. That’s a lot of pain, during which you dare not move lest a blade slip and do some serious, permanent damage.


So many women my age went through similar or worse experiences. Were we happy about it? No, but we did what we felt was best, not just for us but for everyone affected.

Life doesn’t happen in a vacuum. What happens to one woman happens to her entire circle — family and friends. We were adult women. We had the right and the obligation to decide what happens to our bodies and our lives.

I maintain my long-standing position on this matter. Unless you are a woman, your opinion is worthless. I do not care what they preach in your church. Until you walk in my shoes, live in my body, you know nothing.

Why am I weighing in on this? The it-wasn’t-really-an-abortion was more 40 years ago. No one knew it happened until now. I’m not ashamed of it. I’m sorry it happened, but I believed I was doing the right thing. I still believe it.

How ironic that women are again facing the specter of those terrifying, desperate days. The nightmare of the back room and the coat hanger is looming. The gains in personal freedom women won are at risk. If we don’t speak out and stand together, we will lose it. Maybe not tomorrow, but eventually. The opposition is relentless.

I am past child-bearing age. It’s about all women. Whether or not we have the right to decide for ourselves what is done to us. If ever there was a right to life involved, how about our right to have a decent life, to bear the number of children they want and not be managed by men whose stake in the issue is tangential? How about that?

No one wants an abortion. But sometimes, you need one.


“What else could go wrong?  How much worse could things get?”

My husband and I have an agreement. We will never say those words. Not say them or even think them. Because no matter how bad things are, no matter how dark life looks, there’s always something else that can go wrong. If you are alive, you are already money ahead. You could be not alive.

summer bouquet - 2

A fair number of people I counted as friends and loved ones are long gone and more are on that final leg of life’s journey. In the immortal words of Tom Lehrer “Soon we’ll all be sliding down that razor blade of life.” Ouch.

The other day, I was deep in a miasma of self-pity. It’s my least favorite place to be except in a hospital bed waking up to realize “Oh shit, this is going to be really bad …” I thought to myself, “You really are going to die.”

Then I said out loud. “Of course you are going to die. Was there ever the least bit of doubt about it? It was never an “if.” We are all going to die. When and how remain the only questions, but that’s a journey we’re all taking.”

None of the people I know have come back to tell me about the other side. Not one single person has reported back, so I’m not counting on going to a better place. I’m going to try to make the best of this place and let the next take care of itself.

summer bouquet

So what could go wrong? You think things couldn’t get worse?

They can go wronger and they can get worser. And given the shit-storm life is, it probably will. Go wronger. Get worser. So I will shut up and enjoy whatever there is to enjoy because we never know. Actually, we know. We just don’t want to think about it.

Tom Lehrer always cheers me up.


Grand Slam


Being baseball fans, when you mention baseball and walk-off home runs, David Ortiz pops into mind. He isn’t the Big Poppy he was in the past, but he has his good days.

The Sox are so not in it this year, but it’s been an interesting baseball decade. We’ve had a fair share of victories. In theory, our boys could still do something. In reality, it seems beyond merely unlikely.


My walk-off home run would be a multi-faceted magic remedy to alleviate arthritis, regenerate missing body parts and internal organs, cure skin rashes and hair loss … combined with at least one big score on the lottery.

nationals in DC baseball

On a more modest level, I’d be happy with a good night’s sleep and waking up free from pain.

That said, I’m not unhappy. Life remains engaging, entertaining, amusing, fun. I’ve had to find new things to enjoy and different ways to enjoy them, but we all have to adapt. I guess I don’t remember “the old days” as so much better than right now. Different. Not necessarily better.


We change, the world changes. It takes some enterprise to find new stuff to enjoy, but it’s not beyond our ability to learn to play on a new field. Even to figure out how to hit one of the park.


The only time I read the newspaper is when I’m waiting for the doctor or dentist. Usually, I get headlines online and carefully avoid reading “hard news.”

I don’t want to know. I can’t fix what’s broken in the world. Knowing about it will depress me.


Yesterday, I had a moderately long wait for the dentist. It was an emergency visit and I didn’t bring my Kindle. My bag is already stuffed, overloaded with camera equipment and everything else.

Garry always buys newspapers and he had brought two. Halfway through the second newspaper, I remembered why I don’t follow news. I caught up with everything I didn’t want to know.

The waiting experience was crowned by seeing the dentist.


The good news? The antibiotics healed the infection in my gums and if I lay off the flossing, I should be fine. Other good news? My broken tooth was filled. I no longer have a big, jagged hole where my premolar ought to be. In fact, I still have the premolar, or what’s left of it. Even better news? The tooth can be fixed, made good as new, almost.

You’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, right? Wait for it …

$1200 for the crown. No insurance. Because health insurance doesn’t cover teeth, vision, or hearing. Eating, seeing, and hearing are cosmetic, not medical issues.


Now that I know I’m not going to die from infection, I can relax. I can stop being cranky, snarky, and insomniac. Because all I need to worry about is money.

Footnote: The photographs have nothing to do with the post. I took them when we got back from the dentist. With the Pentax Q7, which was not having a good day. It took me an hour to figure out what was bothering it — and set it to rights. I felt obliged to use the pictures.


In the last week, since Garry has been less able to do “the heavy lifting,” the question of who will help who and which of us can perform the more physically demanding chores has loomed large. We haven’t found an answer. Maybe there isn’t any.

The doctor said it looked like a brown recluse spider bite to her. She was looking at the swollen, scabbed over wound on Garry’s leg.

“It doesn’t look anything like a tick bite and Garry’s blood panel was normal. No indication of any other infection. All levels normal.”


I said “All the experts say there are no brown recluse spiders in this part of the country.” Of course there are loads of apocryphal stories and data to belie that smug assertion, but experts are expert. They can’t be wrong so you can’t argue with them.

The doc gave me a look and said “Right!”

The initial Lyme titre already came back. Negative. It probably would be negative at this point even if there were an infection incubating. I’m optimistic because my beloved shows no symptoms of a systemic infection. Only his leg hurts. Which makes sense — if he was bitten by the spider that doesn’t live here. The mythical spider reported by so many people, but completely denied by official experts.

Sometimes, experts sound like they are deep in denial. Or is that just me?

We’ll run another blood test for Lyme in about a month, but the odds are? Garry was bitten by a brown recluse spider. Which probably was living by the side of the house where the woodshed was until recently, when my son tore it down.

That’s exactly where these spiders (the ones that don’t live around here) like to hide. In old rotting wood piles, cardboard boxes, damp garages, and basements. Oh, I forgot to mention that these same experts assure us that these are very non-aggressive spiders and only bite when they feel threatened. What would make a spider feel threatened is left to our own imagination.

Nonetheless, experts say we don’t have brown recluse spiders around here. So — what, me worry?