There was a time when whether or not I would continue to have a pulse was a matter of considerable discussion. Apparently, if I didn’t have a lot of surgery, it was going to go away and not come back.
I didn’t like that idea much, so eventually, I had the surgery. Two pig valves, one myocardial-something-or-other-y in the left ventricle, a bypass, and a Pacemaker later, everything pulses in a reasonably tidy, efficient way. As long as the batteries don’t wear out, or one of the animal valves stops working, I’m good to go.
So far, anyhow.
I have a pulse. Check yours. It’s always useful to keep checking.
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 if Harold could tell him anything about friends or relatives. Just who should be notified.
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.
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 effect 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 everyday 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 hoped 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.
It was just about time for Tiffany’s favorite customer to arrive, so she took a spot at the server’s station. That was located at the end of a long bar. There, between the bar and the back wall, was an area for water, extra glasses and silverware. Neatly tucked into an alcove was a computer with a touch screen. On the modern device, the waitresses could place their orders which would go back to the kitchen or alert the bar tender of something to prepare. They also had a spot to bring dirty dishes for handsome young Hispanic bus boys to take to the back kitchen. It was not unusual for a waitress to be there, but Tiffany was there for a particular reason.
From the end of the bar, at the server’s station, one could look down the length of the Wild West Restaurant and Sports Bar and see the front door. When Tiffany’s favorite customer arrived promptly at 1 pm, Tiffany planned to direct him to a table that was in her serving area. If he sat outside that area, she would have to let one of the others wait on Harold. She just did not like that idea.
Tiffany had started working at the restaurant and bar three years earlier. She was in her earlier 30’s then and had a friendly and energetic way that got her hired by the hard-working managers. After a while, she became a favorite waitress for many of the regular patrons. She usually worked through the lunch hour and into the early evening. Sometimes she covered on a later shift where drunken patrons tipped her well. Despite that, she still preferred the afternoons.
After she was well established at the restaurant, a retired gentlemen from the Midwest became a regular Wednesday and Saturday afternoon customer. He was very punctual, arriving right at 1 pm each time. Tiffany knew his order and he was easy to serve. When Tiffany had left for a few months to try a new, and allegedly exciting place, she found she missed the atmosphere and the friends at the Wild West. She did not realize how much like family they were until she went away. The customers were nice, the managers were fair and friendly and the other waitresses were like sisters. When she got the opportunity, she returned.
Harold started coming to the Wild West Restaurant and Sports bar shortly after he had left the cold Midwest climate for sunny retirement on the Gulf Coast of Florida. He liked the Soup and Sandwich special each Wednesday and Saturday so he quickly made that part of his schedule. You see, Harold was very well-organized and when he put something on his schedule, you could depend that he would follow through on it. That’s why all of the employees knew Harold was about to walk in the door.
Tiffany had a sweet spot for Harold, as the saying goes. Even though he did not say a lot, she found him rather endearing. She looked forward to his dependability as well as his smile. It just sort of indicated that there was some order in the world. Despite the lack of conversation, she knew he appreciated these twice weekly visits
When the front door opened at 1 pm, Tiffany was ready with a smile, but the patron was not Harold. Nevertheless, she politely smiled as a young man took a seat where Tiffany had planned to place Harold. It was OK, there were other places for Harold that he would like. A few empty tables had a good view of one of the televisions. So, she brought the young man water and a menu and returned to the server’s station. She tried to watch the door diligently, but the lunch crowd kept taking her away from her post.
At 13:30 it was apparent something was wrong. Time had gone by quickly before Tiffany realized Harold was late. He always came through the door at the exact minute. Some days she was convinced he waited around outside for a few minutes so he could be precisely on time at 1 pm. This particular Wednesday he was not there at 1, 1:30 or at 2. Harold did not arrive for lunch.
Tiffany’s disappointment was noticeable to her coworkers. She liked how nicely Harold fit into the routine, and now he was missing. Could he have gone to another restaurant? Could he have scheduled some place new? Could she have lost her favorite customer? Questions swirled through her head. What could possibly be the answer? Perhaps he was sick. Perhaps he had an accident. Perhaps he was stuck at home and had to make his own lunch. Whatever was the issue, she hoped Harold was doing well and had good food.
At that very hour Harold was indeed having lunch. A middle-aged nurse, who looked like she had not slept for a day or two, was hanging a fresh bag to feed Harold intravenously directly with the stomach tube. It was not the sort of meal he was used to on a Wednesday afternoon, but it seems he was in no position to object as the stroke had left him rather speechless. Today’s meal definitely was not on his schedule.
George and his ever talkative wife Martha had just about enough of the Midwest winter. They were tired of snow, tired of cold. At close-to-retirement age, they were just plain tired. When another cold night forced them to stay at home rather than visit a favorite neighborhood stop, they realized there was only one thing that could pull them through to warmer weather. Baseball! Right then and there, they began to talk about a trip to sunny Florida for a round of spring training games.
A year before, they had traveled to Florida on a rare road trip to see the Chicago Cubs play. The Cubs lost but they deemed the trip a success. They had visited a ball park other than Wrigley Field, spent a day at the beach, and wandered through town to do some typical tourist shopping. They had some very hot days, but did not suffer the kind of stifling humidity Lake Michigan can serve up in July. Now, in March, they were ready to go south again.
George sat down with spring schedules to see what teams would be playing. He wanted to find the best matches for the days they could go to Florida. Martha researched the ball parks themselves and the surrounding night spots on the internet. When they had chosen a few games they might like to see, they looked at hotels, air fares and rental cars. After a full night of debate and delay, they made their choices.
They would return to the familiar spots of St. Petersburg. From there they could go to Tampa to see the Yankees, then down to Bradenton to catch the Pirates and from there to Sarasota to see the Orioles.
Unlike the famous George and Martha of Broadway play and movie fame, this couple rarely had arguments. In fact, they were in agreement on just about anything that meant parties and good times. When almost all of their arrangements were in place, and they were congratulating themselves on another “road trip extraordinaire”, Martha had one more good idea. Of course, the good idea may have been fueled by the German beer she had been drinking all night, but it was an interesting idea, nonetheless.
“Why don’t we call old Harold for the game in Bradenton or Sarasota?” Martha blurted out as if her head had been hit by a rock and she was stunned silly.
“Harold!” George shouted with glee. “That’s a wonderful idea. The old boy probably needs a road trip anyway. Let’s give lucky old Harold a call.”
While Martha dutifully looked for Harold’s phone number, George wondered why the little tapper of Dortmunder beer had run dry. “I am headed to the basement, ” George called out. “I have to find another one of these big cans of beer. You killed the last one.”
“I did no such thing, George,” Martha lied.
When the twosome finally met back at the kitchen table, each was carrying the object of their search. “Well dial the phone and hand it over, old woman,” George said with a laugh.
“I am not as old as you, wise guy,” Martha said as she handed over the phone. Both began to giggle and laugh like school kids up to no good. The phone rang away as the couple talked on until George finally realized there must have been at least 20 rings. He hung up.
“I can not imagine that Harold is not home at this hour. He was never out late.” It was true, of course. In all his life Harold was rarely out at night, and since he retired and moved to Florida, he was always home by dark.
“He’s probably sleeping, you nit wit,” Martha declared. “Let’s give him another try tomorrow.” And so they did. In fact, they called for several days in a row and at different times of day, but Harold never answered. When the day of the trip arrived, Harold was not part of the plan.
Undeterred by their lack of success at lining up Harold for a game, they resolved to try him again once they landed at the Florida airport. They departed from Chicago’s Midway airport. Unbelievably, it was once the busiest airport in the country, but that was before the jet age. Now the crowded airport just seemed like the busiest airport. St. Petersburg airport, on the other hand, was in stark contrast, even for spring training. The crowd was small and the rental car line was short. The couple got their car, got to their hotel, and got on the phone. Still, there was no Harold.
“I hope the old guy is OK,” Martha said, finally voicing more than a bit of concern.
“Sure, Harold is just fine,” George insisted. “He is probably at some nice restaurant right now being fussed over by some cute waitresses. Don’t worry.”
At that very moment Harold was being fussed over by some weary nurses at the Intensive Care Unit of the county hospital. This trip, the retired planner from the Midwest was going to miss the endlessly talkative George and Martha.
Note: The next Harold story appears next week. What happened to Harold? The previous story: “Missing Monday“
If you have been stopping by this space for a while you may recall a series of stories about Harold, the retired planner from the Midwest. He tried to organize all of his time with care, but life had a way of throwing up little distractions along the way. Then came something he did not plan, a major detour. Links to the original stories follow this unexpected event:
Bill rolled over to take a look at the alarm clock. It was almost 8:30 so he decided to spring into action. He never set the alarm clock. He saw no need. He was retired and had always longed for the time when the alarm clock was not to be used to alarm him out of his sleep. Some days he got up by 7:30 am, other days it was 10. It depended largely on how late he stayed up reading or watching television.
Since he needed to make a call at 9 am, the affable retiree rushed about the house in a rather disorderly fashion, leaving a bit of a mess in his wake. That did not bother him as there would be plenty of time later to clean up the place. Now he was making coffee and giving just the slightest thought as to what he would buy today at the supermarket.
The only thing Bill tried to be punctual at all week was the Monday call to his neighbor, Harold, who lived just a few doors down. The way Bill saw it, old Harold probably relied on the weekly call.
The Midwest planner from down the block seemed to know no one and had little contact with the world. Bill was convinced he was doing Harold a big favor. He did not know exactly how Harold felt about the weekly sojourn to the giant Publix supermarket, however. It must have been a Monday highlight for the newly retired neighbor and new friend.
A quick glance out the window revealed a perfect Florida morning. Bill loved this area of Florida. In honesty, he settled there because the property values were quite depressed in Sarasota County after the big recession, and he got a good deal in a good neighborhood of old timers, like himself.
Now it was time to help out an old guy who needed a friend, so he called Harold on his AARP phone and waited for his tentative voice to respond. Bill was quite amused as he thought of the same surprised tone Harold had each Monday morning when he answered the phone.
Much to the amazement of Bill, there was no response. He let the phone ring a long time before giving up. “I wonder what the old guy is up to this morning,” Bill thought. So he decided to wander down the street and ring Harold’s doorbell.
As he went up the steps to the front door, a voice called out. “You ain’t gonna find no body at home, young man,” Harold’s next door neighbor called out as Bill chuckled to himself. Not too many people referred to him as “young man.” In fact, no one did. He turned around and walked in the direction of a woman who did seem to be a lot older than Bill or Harold.
Mabel Crockett was well into her eighties but still rather spry. She kept up on the neighbors by frequently finding an excuse to do things around the outside of the house. It was unnecessary as there was an Association to deal with maintenance and yard work, but she liked checking up on things.
“So where is old Harold this morning?” Bill asked in a cheery tone.
“They carted him off pretty early, I reckon,” Mabel said in a deep southern drawl.
“What?” an astounded Bill exclaimed.
“Well I ain’t one to meddle in other folks’ affairs,” she lied, “but I seen that Sunday paper still settin’ there on that landing he calls a porch, so I just took a walk over there. In the back I could see he was, uh, just layin’ there on the ground in that screened in patio. So I went on home, dialed 911, and it’s a good thing.”
“Good thing?” Bill questioned.
“Why, he was still breathin’ when they loaded him into that big ol’ ambulance. Leastwise, I think he was still breathing. The young feller drivin’ that big vehicle said he still seemed kinda fresh.”
“Fresh? That seems a strange way to put it,” Bill said with a rather incredulous tone.
“Well, I guess it was because he couldn’t a been layin’ there too long. Anyways, they said they was taking him over to the general hospital. Right over here a piece,” she said pointing to the south.
“Oh my,” Bill responded with a great deal of concern. He said good-bye to the old woman and rushed to his car.
When he arrived at the general hospital, he went right to the emergency room and inquired about Harold. His questions only got questions in return. “What time did he arrive? What was the problem? Did he come by ambulance or did someone bring him?”
Finally, the woman without the answers invited him to take a seat and someone would come out shortly. By “shortly” she must have meant an hour.
After the long wait, a nurse with a clipboard in hand appeared. “Are you here about the elderly gentlemen who had a stroke?”
“Stroke!” Bill exclaimed as he got all choked up about someone he barely knew.
“Yes,” she said calmly. “Are you the next of kin?”
“A relative perhaps?”
“Do you know who is next of kin or related somehow?”
“Do you know who his doctor is?”
The series of questions went on until Bill finally explained that he was just a neighbor. In fact, Bill did not even know Harold’s last name. The nurse looked disappointed but thanked Bill anyway and went back to her station. Bill followed.
“Excuse me, nurse, will I be able to see him?” Bill inquired.
“No, only immediate family,” she explained.
“But we don’t know if he has immediate family,” Bill said with a sense of urgency.
“I’m sorry,” she said as if she has had to say that a thousand times before.
As he left the hospital Bill realized that the master planner from the Midwest had no plan for this. Although Bill rarely planned anything, he decided he better go home and make one.
What do these two words have to do with anything I have to say this morning?
Nothing that I can figure out. Maybe you can find the link I’m missing, but I can’t. This morning is a bit rushed for us. I’m hoping traffic is okay.
This seems like a reasonable place to say what’s about to happen, so bear with me.
Today is Garry pre-op day at UMass Memorial. In less than 2 weeks, it’s going to be surgery and a lot of weeks of checkups, adjustments. and evaluations. Mostly, it means (for us) a lot of running back to and from the hospital until finally, the magic comes together and all is well with the world.
This is the moment when I have to begin to pull away from this blog for a while. Between one thing and another, we are going to be going through a busy time. I don’t want to feel like a failure if I can’t meet my quota of blogs I’ve read, comments made, photos I’ve taken, and posts produced. For a while, the world will have to somehow turn without me giving it a twirl. I suspect it will do just fine.
I’ve been blogging with almost machine-like precision for six years. I hope I can take a break and you all won’t abandon me. I will try to keep up (within limits), but this is not going to be my best summer for creativity.
We’ve won’t be traipsing to museums, though I do very much enjoy them and I’m not planning any dart-throwing in the foreseeable future. I’ll try to comment when I can and you are all in my heart.
Wish us luck and may this summer be warm, full of joy, and smelling of flowers!
How funny or witty can you be when reality — your existence — has gone beyond whatever we imagined was the ultimate degree of ludicrousness? When your future expectations have been effectively annihilated?
That we have a horrible government (it makes me ill thinking about it) is bad. Awful. Unspeakable.
But all the little things that should be easy are also obscenely complicated. There’s no reason for it — except the people with whom one is dealing are incompetent. Not because they can’t do the job, but because they don’t care.
Is this all part of the overall feeling we have that our country is going to hell? That trying to be better isn’t worth the effort? We already know we aren’t going to be rewarded because no one cares about the quality of our work. Or us.
I have learned that when anyone “fixes” something, the new version is going to be harder to use and less functional. This includes hardware and software. It includes medical care. It includes any form of communications. It includes things like logging on to my computer.
I didn’t want to have a password for my computer because no one uses it except me. Garry wouldn’t go near it. It’s too heavy to haul anywhere and I would have to be dead for someone to try to figure it out.
But I gave up. I put in a password. Yesterday, Microsoft sent down a new version of Windows 10 and now, I can choose one of three ways to sign in. I can use my password. I can use a numerical key through Microsoft. Or I can set up facial recognition.
Thanks. If I didn’t want a password at all, why do I now need three choices of new ways to slow down my computer?
I turned off Alexa on each machine on which it has appeared. I refuse to use voice recognition or Skype. It takes me at least three tries to make the robot in the computer understand what I’m saying. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how many times I say it, it isn’t going to understand.
Moreover, I don’t need Alexa to take charge of anything, thank you very much. Please, take Alexa, Cortana, and Siri away. Make them disappear.
I don’t need electronic solutions to stuff that isn’t a problem. If I add these electronic solutions, they will become problems. It’s like the electronics in your car. You don’t have a key, so if the computer malfunctions, you not only can’t drive your car, you can’t even open the door.
Why is everything so needlessly complicated? Why does every simple task involve hours on hold, getting disconnected? Why are they making toilets require Bluetooth or WiFi? Are they going to analyze our shit to make sure we’re getting the right amount of roughage? Do I need the toilet to talk to me?
Why am I arguing with robots or people who know less about the problem than I do? Why won’t people believe anything I tell them?
I’m tired of being mad. Tired of arguing about stupid shit. I’m worn out. I am not ill, dying. I’m not going to have a stroke or heart attack. I’m exhausted from endlessly dealing with a million idiotic things that should not need to be dealt with at all. By anyone.
I’m tired of the incompetence of people who have jobs when so many competent people could use a job.
It’s not merely that we have a stupid government. It’s that we are becoming a stupid country. Not “stupid” in the sense that we don’t have brains, but stupid in the sense that we don’t use them. Brains, that is.
I’m having trouble finding this funny. That worries me. If I can’t laugh, how can I keep going? Laughter is the one thing that makes life livable. Take it away, and life will totally suck.
I used to say when comes the revolution, I’ll be on of the first up against the wall. Right now, not only does that seem likely, it doesn’t sound like a bad idea. It could save me from trying to try making another appointment with a doctor.
Lately, even watching comedians isn’t funny because the news isn’t funny. It’s tragic, sad, depressing. And getting worse. I no longer think it can’t get worse. I’m positive it will get worse. I try not to think about how it could get worse. I just want it to not get too much worse until after I’m gone.
It would be just our kind of luck for both of us to live to 120.
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