Saturday, May 21, 2011

Life Goes On

     The sun is shining this morning!  Yes, that IS worthy of an announcement, given the number of days it has rained lately.And the number of days in the upcoming forecast calling for MORE rain.  Today is, in fact, the only day NOT scheduled for moisture. Hallelujah.  For real.  Webbing is growing between my toes, and I feel slightly soggy.  (Not nearly as soggy as I was last Saturday, after spending two hours in the pouring rain at my son's outdoor college graduation. Do you suppose that some, just some, of the outrageous tuition money we sent them 4 years running might have been funneled into renting tents for that momentous occasion? Guess not....)
     Today is the first day of... um, well, a return to normalcy, however temporary that may be in MY life. It feels good. Really good.
     Today, my brother is not in the hospital. No one I know is. And he is healing well. Other than hearing loss, which may, unfortunately, be permanent, but I think it's a small price to pay for all he went through.  His body and neck brace have been exchanged for a soft neck collar for the next three weeks. And life goes on. 
     My father has passed away. His calling hours are tomorrow, but I'm not too concerned. I am so relieved that his struggle is over, that the misery, mentally and physically, are done for him. He is in heaven with my mom, and there will be no more second guessing on our part as to whether we are doing enough, whether he is in the wrong place and we should move him, etc. I do not need to make any more sad visits to the nursing home to sit by his bed and wish that this were not his life anymore. Life goes on.
     EMT class, and both tests are done.  Those Tuesday and Thursday nights, from 6-10, learning all those acronyms like AVPU, BSI, OPQRST, SAMPLE, etc. and stuffing my head with how many compressions per minute per child vs adults, when to insert an orapharyngeal vs a nasophryngeal airway, etc. are over. I passed the lab portion and took my final written State test Thursday night. I think I did well, and think I passed, and whatever happens now (I have to wait 6 weeks to know for sure and to get my certification), it's all done.  
     My son was driven to Baltimore, 6 hours away, following our Thursday night test, to join his Senior class on their trip. He could not leave when they did Thursday morning because of the test, Thursday night,  so we sped him down there,deposited him at 6 am Friday morning, turned around and came home, were home by noon yesterday. That's done. 
     College graduation for my oldest is done. His mini-vacation of three days is done, and he is back on campus for his summer job, which began yesterday. High school graduation for my second son is still a few weeks away, as is the end of the school year, and beginning of summer, for me. 
     I don't have pneumonia anymore. I don't even have bronchitis. I DO have a cold, and could not taste my Starbucks coffee I treated myself to yesterday morning on the way home from Baltimore, but it's only a cold. And, only a head and throat cold, not even a chest cold. No dr. visit required, just more vitamins, and some sunshine will help speed it on its way. That, and some extra sleep, and some lack of stress. 
     Wait, I have TIME for extra sleep now. That's cool. And as I look around me, and ahead of me, there seems to be no stress in sight. That's also very cool. When I look back at what the past five months have brought, and from which I have been delivered into this bright, sunshine-filled May morning, today, I am filled with so much gratitude that I don't know what to do with it all. I not only survived, I rose above. I wanted to quit, but did not. I did the best I could, sometimes failing, but continually trying. I loved hard, I showed up each day, and got through. 
     I think I'm going to simply go sit on my front steps in the sunshine, pour one more cup of coffee this morning, and soak it all in, while I make my TO-DO list for the days and weeks ahead of me. There's more rain forecast for tomorrow, so maybe today, I'll mow the grass. I have time for it, and time to do normal things just seems GOOD. Better than anything, as a matter of fact. Life goes on, and it is good.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Of Cardinals and Bluebirds

  Once, about 25 years ago or so, one of my favorite priests gave a lesson one Sunday morning on appreciation that I have never forgotten,  It was about cardinals, and probably other things too, but I remember the cardinals. His point, that morning,  was that there are lots of birds in this world, many of them rather nondescript, even drab,  looking, and that's fine. But God made cardinals a bright, beautiful red when he didn't have to, and that we should never forget to thank God for the beautiful things he has given us simply for the sake of beauty. For the longest time, I actually DID remember to say, literally, "Thank you, God," out loud every time a male cardinal flashed across the road in front of me. I suppose the same should be said for rainbows, and roses and other miracles of nature that take your breath away. My mother and I both shared a love of cardinals, and they never ceased to bring her joy, especially in her later years when she spent a lot of time sitting in her chair at home, watching the birds out the window.  She would always remark about the cardinals, and how beautiful they were. My dad got so that he bought her cardinal "things" whenever he saw them, and so, in addition to the lesson I learned about being grateful for unnecessary beauty in this world, I also have long associated cardinals with my mom.  I know it doesn't make sense, because it is the male cardinal who is the brightest and flashiest, but whenever I see one, I feel like my mom is nearby, making her presence felt through that beautiful scarlet streak as it wings past.  When we took my dad to the hospital for surgery the last time, I saw several pairs of cardinals dip and flit across the back road, and took it to be an "omen, "  a good one, that my mom was with him, with us.  Silly, because I don't really believe in omens, either.  But, I do know that we have ALL been grateful, my dad, siblings, and I, for the cardinals in our lives, because it has kept thoughts of my mother close at hand.
     A week ago Sunday, as I was sitting in my dad's room at the nursing home, passing some of his last hours with him, I was watching some birds coming and going from a bird house on a pole outside his window, nest building, I suppose. The sun would catch the iridescent blue on the wings or their tale feathers, and initially, because of the blue, I thought they were bluebirds.  I should have known they were not, because they weren't really that bright blue, but bluebirds, even here in the country, are a fairly rare sight. I don't know when the last time I actually saw one was, but I know it's been years. My brother told me they were house swallows when I asked. I was disappointed that they weren't bluebirds, but not really very surprised. Their tail feathers were too pointy, really, and the blue, more of a metallic black-blue.  Tuesday, after my father had passed away, and I was on my way home from my brother's house late in the afternoon, I was driving along the Back River Road and a bluebird flew across the road in front of me. An honest-to-goodness bluebird, this time, and there was NO mistaking it. It was smaller, rounder, red chested, very compact, and a stunningly- blue color. It made me laugh out loud to think I had actually mistaken the swallows for bluebirds earlier that week. Once I saw this one, there was no mistake.
     So, I'm not sure if I saw it because bluebirds were on my mind? Sometimes that happens. You don't see things unless you have opened yourself to the possibility of them, true enough. But it's hard to think I would have missed other opportunities to see and appreciate that beautiful flash of bright, bright, blue just because I wasn't thinking about them. That blue, like the red of a cardinal, and the yellow of a goldfinch in summer, is an in-your-face notice to sit up and pay attention, and, give thanks.Hard to miss, even on the worst or most distracted of days. No, rather, I think that maybe because I had been bird-watching while my dad spent his last few hours on earth, thinking that there were bluebirds outside his window for a time even though they weren't, perhaps God sent me that one, lone bluebird on that day out of all others,  to let me know that my dad has not only taken flight, but is also something to be remembered connected to beauty as well. Another "omen," of sorts, even though I don't believe in omens. Maybe there is simply a better word for omen that I DO believe in?  That seems logical.
     All I know is, I find comfort in thinking of my mom when I see a cardinal, and try to remain vigilantly thankful for those brilliant flashes of red that didn't have to be, and now, if and when I am lucky enough to see another bluebird or two, I will also think of my dad, thankful for the beauty his life brought to mine, and thankful that God decided to give us not only the red, but that blue as well.  I changed my picture on facebook this week to a bluebird, in honor and memory of my dad, and the beautiful things in my life, and a friend wrote this on my wall this morning:
     "Love the blue bird taking flight, soaring above it all. Free from the confines of earth that bind us. Free to pursue higher, deeper, richer things. Quietly and gracefully joining the heavenly skies. He wings
 are spread as if to wash those of us below with a peace that passes all understanding. Simply breathe!


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

2/18/21 - 5/17/11 I Love You, Dad

‎"May flights of angels lead 
you on your way to paradise 
and heavens eternal day! May
 martyrs greet you after 
deaths' dark night and bid you 
enter into Zion's light!
May choirs of angels sing you 
to your rest with once poor 
Lazarus, now forever blest"

latin gregorian chant

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

FLYING COLORS... what I passed my 6 lab station practical hands-on exam with tonight for EMT class. I am pretty darned excited. I still have the written test to go, a week from tomorrow night, but I have a week to prep for that, and I USUALLY do better with written tests than hands on, and I was an absolute nervous wreck tonight before and during the practicals, so I am SOOOO SOOOO glad they are done, and that I did well, even though I was totally and positively convinced I would not. Whew!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sunday, Room 216

     Distorted, muted sounds of several TV's driftly loudly and out of synch, different channels, different programs, from down the hallway, outside your door.
     Voices call back and forth to each other, workers in opposite rooms, their words in bass tones, indistinguishable,  but their laughter staccato soprano, high-pitched, out of place in this mostly-silent resident hall.
     The day outside your window is bright but full of clouds, not sure whether to go on by, or gather. The pointy-tailed irridescent blue swallows and golden yellow finches busily go on about their springtime business, oblivious of this world on the other side of the glass, our world, my dad's and mine, where, in this room, it is you and I. 
     You were present when I was born, and it is only fitting that I be present at your leaving. 
     You are restless here, not able to stay, but not quite ready to go, caught, trapped by your body, between two worlds, this and the other.
     Your hoarse raspy breathing says 'asleep,' your half-open eyes say 'awake," but you neither see me nor respond to me when I look into you.  The eyes give the most telling sign that you are slowly going away from us. They are filmy, veiled, grey-blue, not alert anymore, almost done with us.
     Your fingers move, twitch, reach, grasp - at nothing mostly, but sometimes you catch the sheet or blanket or my hand. The warmth is there but the grip, the strength, is gone.
     Your lips move, but I can't read the words on them.  A prayer? Talking to someone who waits for you? No meaning, just movement?  I do not know.
     Your breathing, rattly, raspy, too loud for this room.  Everyone is kind. Too kind to bear, almost.  My occasional tears are not for the end that is now in sight, but because the leaving taking takes way too long.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Last Week of March, Part 2

     Here's "the rest of the story."  This was harder to write about than what actually happened. I think you'll understand.
     I believe in miracles, but I think the term is used far too often and too loosely. I believe in them, but don't want to sound as though I am constantly looking for and seeing them everywhere. I'm not talking about the miracles like "the miracle of birth,"  as that happens daily, and is no less a miracle for it's frequency, or the daily morning miracle of sunrise.  I'm talking honest-to-goodness Miracles, capital M miracles. But let me tell you about the part of the story that got my brother TO the hospital. It still gives me goose-bumps.
     First of all, you have to know a couple things about my brother.  He is 57, the quintessential woodsman/outdoorsman. Has been since birth. He is 9 years older than me, and all my life, from my earliest recollections of him, he has been trapping, hunting, cutting wood, etc. He is also the epitomy of "Independent"  - stubborn and set in his ways and a genuine curmudgeon might be better-fitting terms and ones he himself would apply liberally as well. He's a good guy, but it's his way  or the highway.  He's also an expert in the woods, particularly with safety. He has been cutting wood all his life, nearly, and has NEVER had a careless accident. He is the type of person for whom careless accidents simply do not happen. I'm not trying to build him as a larger-than-life person, but it's critical that it is clear that he does not take risks in the woods, ever.
     Equally important is the fact that, until a year or two ago, my brother did not OWN a cell phone. Didn't believe in them, thought people who had them were generally rude and stupid (I TOLD you he was opinionated), as they were constantly talking or texting in public, and there was just NO POINT to them.  OK, whatever. Not my opinion (though I do agree that common politeness has gone out the window when many people use their cell phones...)  But, a couple years ago, my brother began dating a woman who lives in New Hampshire, and suddenly, quietly, he not only had a cell phone like the rest of the modern world, but became rather an expert texter as well!
     So, on that day, that Tuesday back in March, he had cut a tree down near his back door, and then had gone across the main road, down the dirt road diagonally across from his house and up into the woods to drop some trees for firewood.  Thankfully, his girlfriend in NH knew where he was, knew that he was alone, and so... had the unthinkable happened, we would have at least known by nightfall, as their plan was for her to text him on her way home from work, and if he didn't answer her text, she would worry. (I assume at that point the "worry" would have translated into a quick call for one of us locally to go check on least, I assume that was the point of their check in system?) Regardless, he did have his cell phone with him, something which, two years ago, would NOT have happened, given his previous exhortations about the ridiculousness of cell phones. Miracle number one. If you knew my brother, you would GET that this, in itself, was a miracle. He makes many proclamations, and seldom in my lifetime has EVER gone back on one.  If he says it, he means it, and does it. Thank God the cell phone one is one of the very, very few that he didn't stick with.
     So, cutting trees down. Something happened. We STILL don't know what, and probably never will. He always checks for loose branches, branches hung up, widow-makers. He DOES remember doing that this time, as well. But suddenly, something happened. Whatever it was, he was hit from the right side, and knocked about 15 feet away from his chainsaw, according to where the EMT's found him.  You can't tell from the trees that are down what happened, so I guess that part of it is always going to be a mystery.
     Somehow, regaining consciousness for a brief period of time, he managed to call his friend, at work an hour a way, and tell him "You gotta help me. I'm hurt bad. I don't know where I am."  That friend called his wife, who lives locally, and SHE called 911.  He also called other friends of my brothers who live in town, I think, or maybe my brother made a couple of other phone calls. THOSE friends immediately drove up, outside of town, to his house, where they spent time looking for him around there. Based on the tree being down, but not yet cut up, by his back steps, they assumed he was hurt there, and laying someplace near by.  After that, the story is pieced together from what people involved have said happened, but none of this is first hand to me. What I BELIEVE happened is, when his friend's wife called 911, she said she didn't know where he was, but gave them his cell phone number. 911 called him back, and as long as his phone was on, they used it to triangulate from the various cell towers where his signal was coming from to get a general location. He was apparently in and out of consciousness much of this time.  911 toned out the two rescue squads from the towns on either side of him - the closest one does not have an ambulance, but DOES have an emergency response vehicle and trained EMT's, so they actually were the ones who eventually reached him first.  I guess, based on the responders knowing my brother, knowing the area, and using the cell phone tower signals, they could tell what road they thought he was on. From there, when he WAS conscious, the 911 dispatch people asked both rescue teams to turn on their sirens until he said he could hear them. Then they had one turn their siren off, and the other leave theirs on, and vice versa. Based on which siren he reported hearing each time, they could narrow down their search area for him.  They drove down the dirt road, not knowing exactly where in the woods he would be, but then the guys on the closer rescue squad happened to see three-wheeler tracks through a tiny patch of snow that was left (most had either melted or been washed away by early spring rains and warmer weather at that point) heading into the woods. Either knowing, or just following a hunch, I don't know which, they went in after him there, where they saw the tracks. They found him, immediately back-boarded and c-collared him for obvious spinal cord injury, and called for Mercy Flight. MF landed in a cleared area of field used for a log landing zone, and... the rest you know.
     Thinking about all that went into that rescue, all the variables, the intuition, the skill, the friends, the coincidences, STILL makes me shake a bit.  If I DIDN"T believe in miracles before, MIRACLE miracles, I do now. 
     Currently, nearly 7 weeks after the accident, he is still in a body brace (that, in itself, is a miracle - we were so very afraid that "he-who-knows-all" would decide two weeks in that he knew better than the doctors, and would not live the necessary time in the wildly uncomfortable brace.) To the best of my knowledge, he is still in it. I THINK he has another 1-3 weeks.  He has been in NH with his girlfriend for the past month. Flying to Boston in a body brace, with two spinal column breaks, a few weeks after the accident was NOT what any of us felt was in his best interest, and we made that profoundly clear. But, he's a big boy, and because his girlfriend had a stroke, and then heart surgery once they discovered the stroke was caused by a hole in her heart, though we didn't agree, we also couldn't very well blame him for wanting to be there with her. Apparently it hasn't caused him any real harm.  The only residual at this point SEEMS to be hearing loss in his right ear, and he does have an appointment to get that checked soon. If that is the worst he ends up with, then that is small potatoes. He is a lucky man, indeed. 
     I think miracles exist in part as gifts and in part as clues that there is something beyond the flat world we see. Peggy Noonan

Thursday, May 5, 2011

WRITTEN DURING THE LAST WEEK OF MARCH; just not posted til now

     This is one of those times when I know exactly why I blog. I need to write things down to make sense of them, to get them out in the open, to look at them, to turn them around in my hands, in front of me, to take them apart and put them back together again, a hundred times if necessary, before I can wring the meaning out of them, and then let some of them go. It will be a long time before the nightmare of this week fades, of that I have no doubt. And I know there is no chance of ever letting it go.
     Life is full of irony. I spent last Monday night, from 6 - 11 pm, in the Emergency room of the small hospital closest to us, about 20 miles away, doing part of my EMT observation time, and Tuesday, at work, had even begun a few words of a post about that experience. It was, above all else, incredibly boring. The irony lies in the fact that less than 24 hours later I would again be in an emergency room, observing, again, but this time, in the middle of the ultimate of  life and death situations, and not as a bored observer, but as an active participant, an advocate for my brother, who was strapped to the backboard in the trauma bay. I can tell you,  I learned more about emergency medicine in my 8 or 9 hours there than I ever wanted to know, and there was no objectivity to it as there had been the night before when I held a three year old's legs down so he could get stitches in his cheek.
     That Tuesday, after school,I was in my room, talking with a teacher briefly about joint planning for a book, trying to hurry out of there to go home and get ready for class that night. My cell buzzed in my school bag on the floor, but I didn't catch it in time. Normally I would have let it go, figuring it was one of my kids and I was on my way home anyway, but for some reason I picked it up to look at. It was the older of my two brothers, which, when I noticed that, raised an immediate red flag. We don't talk frequently, and for him to call me on my cell phone at 3:30 in the afternoon is just out of the question  - he's at work, as a carpenter and job foreman, and doesn't have time to make phone calls then, much less chatty ones. I assumed that it had to be something to do with my dad, although that didn't really make sense. I didn't have to wait long to find out. Listening to my voice mail message, it was brief and to the point: "Laurie, Dave got hurt in the woods this afternoon, a tree hit him or something, he's being Mercy Flighted to Strong right now."
     I had already planned to be out of school the next day, so I ran to make a few last copies for my sub and to let the teacher I share a room with know what was going on, called my son to see what the pager had said about that 911 call,  let him know it was about his Uncle,  flew out of there, picked him up at the bottom of the driveway, and was on my way to the hospital, an hour and a half away. In retrospect, I see that my immediate reaction to possible tragedy or shocking news must be denial, because although I drove a bit faster than normal, I didn't feel worried, or really even very nervous. I guess I must just shut out the possibility of anything bad, because I felt like I felt fine. Concerned, but not the sort of nervous that hearing "Mercy Flight" should immediately create in someone.
     Oddly, it only took me about an hour to get there, so perhaps I was driving faster than I thought?  I parked in the parking garage, and from there, the route to my brother was endless. It was like walking in waist-high water in slow-motion, movingmovingmoving, but not going anywhere. I walked to the information desk, walked outside, down and around to the ER, waited in line, was sent to another line, was sent back to a different information desk, was passed on to a security guard further back, and finally saw my older brother, the one who had called, sitting on a bench outside the trauma ER.  He handed me his pass and said, urgently, "Get in there and see him." Suddenly, where I was, and why I was there, and the fact that my big, BIG, brother (he is 6 foot ten, or something like that,  - he's a pretty big guy!) seemed pretty shaken up, started to sink in. A nurse took me back, where he was laying, backboarded and C-collared on a gurney, bleeding, swollen, broken. I stepped up, touched his cheek with a fingertip to make sure he was still breathing, made eye contact, spoke reassuringly for a few moments, and then, just like that, got a lesson in what happens to a body fueled by adrenalin when the adrenalin leaves. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't stand, I couldn't speak. I sank to the chair, head between my legs, trying to breathe in and out. It wasn't until the same exact thing happened to his girlfriend when she got there a few hours later that I realized what it was. One of the many things I learned firsthand, not from a book, in the trauma room that night.
     By early in the morning, when a room in the Intensive Care Unit was finally ready for him,  around 1 am? 2am?, time eventually lost any meaning, his injuries clocked in at:  several skull fractures, a deep gash on his skull which needed staples to close it, facial fractures which were quickly blackening his right eye, a broken C-1 vertebrae (the first one, right under your brain), another vertebrae farther down that was a compressed fracture, broken ribs, and a slow brain bleed. A repeated brain scan, 6 hours after the initial one, showed that the bleed on his brain was not getting any bigger, a good sign. Oddly, my several months of EMT training led me to know that as long as he could wiggle fingers and toes, could feel all of his fingers and toes, and had pulses in all four extremities, that he was not in any way paralyzed, which was my biggest, biggest fear. You have to know my brother, but it is no exaggeration to say, he would rather be dead than paralyzed, and knowing his lifestyle, I get that. For his sake, and his alone, I, too, would rather he was dead than paralyzed. I thank God from the depths of my soul that neither of those very viable options were reality. That they were not is simply miraculous.Throughout the night, and the next day, his pain was ever-present and unrelenting. The worst of it was not the pain itself, but the muscle spasms in his neck by the broken vertebrae that caused the pain. Initially they could not give him strong enough pain meds, or a muscle relaxant, because they needed to continue to check the head scans, and to make sure he was not going to have to go for surgery. After about eight hours, when things became more "stable," and the necessity for surgery on anything was finally ruled out, the pain meds increased, and with the muscle relaxant, the spasms eased up a bit, and he could doze for a few minutes at a time. The night was long, one of the longest I have ever endured on anyone's behalf. How helpless you feel to watch someone you love so very much in so much pain, and not be able to do one damn thing to ease even a moment of it. Keeping vigil was all we could do, my sister, his girlfriend and I. I sent my son home, and my big brother went home for a few hours , and we stayed until after 5 am. We went to my sister's house and got two hours of sleep and a cup of coffee and then went back to spend the day, each taking our own turn with being strong or breaking down. Just out of nowhere, tears would begin to leak, then pour, out of one of us, and an hour later, it was someone else's turn. My brother was brave, and stoic, and good. He never rated his pain, his terrible terrible pain, higher than a 4 on the nurse's scale, and when I questioned that, he responded that his pain was nothing compared to someone who might have 3rd degree burns all over their body, or someone who had lost an arm or a leg. The nurses learned to interpret HIS "4"'s equal to someone else's "7"'s, God bless them.
     Wednesday, Thursday, Friday - fitted for a body brace to keep his spine stable, ambulance C-collar exchanged for a more sturdy and comfortable (?) hospital C-collar, out of bed, sitting in a chair, walking, using a cane, managing the headache - Saturday - discharge to home. From 2:30 Tuesday accident time to 2:30 in the afternoon on Saturday, he was whole, broken, fixed, and sent home, a living, breathing, walking miracle.  I'm so glad. I kinda like my big brother. Who am I kidding? I really love my big brother a lot. My family is awesome.
     There's another miracle, a big one, involved in his initial "rescue" from the woods. I'll post that story soon, too. Another story for another day. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


     Sometimes, when you're feeling sad, for lots of reasons and for no good reason, the best thing you can do is eat a bowl of pasta slathered in basil pesto for lunch.  It can make you happy,  for a few minutes, at least.  If I could only take two foods to a desert island with me, it would be pesto and chocolate. (If I could only take one,  so long,  pesto...)