Saturday, March 28, 2020

Taking It Slow

Although I hear that many people here are disregarding the Michigan Governor's Stay At Home order.  Only essential businesses are allowed to be open, and we are only supposed to leave home for errands involving groceries, health and things necessary to life.   But we hear that the few open stores are crowded, which is a cause for concern.  Here at our house things are quiet and slow.   I saw a cute post on Facebook that says it all for me -- "I always thought I wanted to clean my house but didn't have the time.  Now I know that was not the reason."   There are so many projects that I should be working on, both practical ones and things I once thought would be fun.  But I seem to do less, and have less energy, than ever before.  Even the sewing room and kitchen don't tempt me.   My daughter in law is running a temperature, my daughter is looking forward to being released into the highly infected New Orleans area but melting down over how long the system is taking, and my brother is insisting that he wants to go home, where he lives alone in an area with few services.   We hear that some hospitals will not treat anyone with suspected COVID-19 if they are over 60; the youngest of us is 65.  And of course some commentators have suggested that grandparents should be willing to die -- supposedly for their grandchildren, but really so that portfolios can recover by boosting the stock market.  That kind of news is sort of a blow to ones self worth.   It is hard some days to find that elusive inner peace, even though nothing nothing nothing is really wrong.   But the ice cream will be gone before long.  What's a gal to do?

Some neighborhood critter seems to be trying to cheer things up, though.   We have received two gifts on our back deck this week: a dead chipmunk and a whole slice of fresh rye bread.  I know that they likely came from different sources, but I prefer to think of it as one gift-giver, either intent on pleasing us or, just as likely, trying to show us what it's like if your preferred food source isn't available.   We haven't been good lately about filling the feeders with corn and seed because we'll have no way of buying more when it is gone.  As far as we know, bird feed stores are not essential services.

We've also been visited by another turkey vulture this week and now, of course, we know why.  We still find it hard to believe that our deer succumbed to starvation -- he just didn't look or act that frail -- and so we wonder whether we have predators that could have taken him down.  We'll never know, the body was too far gone by the time we found it, but in these days with nothing to do but think, we are thinking.

I made and sent the sample masks for our nurse-relatives.  Their States, further south,  have not (yet) been hit as hard as Michigan has by COVID-19, so their hospitals told them they were not allowing homemade masks at this time.  Our relatives asked for one sample to try, so that they would know whether to ask for more if things get worse there.   I hoped they would never need to use them, although I know that they have many non-medical workers who are not protected and who could benefit (at least emotionally) from their use.    But I just this minute got a text from one of them saying they will now be "allowed" to wear home made masks.   This is not good news, because it would not be allowed if there weren't a shortage of the more protective gear.  

Locally and maybe nationally, we are out of elastic, out of ribbon, out of jewelry wire, and I can't find many of those items in my stash.    I have plenty of cotton material, though, and I can always make ties.  For my first masks I used the wire twisties from bakery wrappers to create the nose "pinch," but they would be nicer and easier to do with better materials, just as elastic would make the masks fit and feel better.  But I will keep sewing a variety of styles with what I have.  I will need to find another chair, though, if I am going to make many of these, because the strain on my surgical arm becomes annoying almost immediately with the current set up.  I have a new pattern that I used today that include rubber bands for the ear pieces.  I am not sure whether our ordinary, cheap rubber bands will be at all durable, but it is worth a try.  They do seem to wash and dry well, and are not uncomfortable to wear.   Since I am out of bakery twisties, there is no nose 'pinch' in these masks.   I've made some for our family, and now I will start on donations for the local health care systems that have requested them.

Meanwhile, here at home, we are moving too little and eating too much.  I made blueberry muffins this morning, a welcome break from the healthier breakfasts we've been eating, and perhaps a sign tht I am almost ready to get up off my rear!  It is time to create a schedule, I think, and to find a new normal in this not normal time.  We would like to support our local businesses and most of them are offering carryout food, but so far I have not taken advantage of that.   I feel safer just staying and eating at home, but I am pretty sure we will be trying one of the curbside options before this is all over.   I know I will need to visit the pharmacy in the next week or so to pick up prescription refills, and maybe that will be a good time to order food since I will need to be out anyway.  Besides, the list that was published in the local paper indicated that our favorite small batch ice cream store is on the list of open and essential businesses!      And Starbucks will still hand coffee through their drive through window.   It is amazing to me that my Facebook feed is so filled with complaints of hardship at having to stay at home.

My scofflaw husband supported one local business yesterday by ordering flowers for me, a surprise on  many levels -- I didn't think a florist would be open since they can hardly be called essential, but some small companies are staying open until they are told personally that they have to close.  According to the local newspaper, the police are visiting those small merchants to give warnings, and  reports say that even going out in our personal vehicles for an aimless drive violates the Governor's 'Stay At Home' order.   So the flowers are probably contraband, but they were a nice surprise and make a bright spot in the living room.  The lilies smell like summer and good memories of better days, despite the frightening news, rain and dreary skies.  It is hard to believe that just a couple of weeks ago, the Grands were in school preparing for science fair, robotics and the school play.  The older ones were getting ready for prom and graduation.   In what seemed like an instant, life's priorities are different than we've ever known.    I hope that we, and especially the younger ones, come out of this still filled with optimism for the future, perhaps a future that will have less focus on the "me" and more recognition of our shared planet and shared fate.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Hard Times

We think the little deer who brought us so much pleasure this winter is dead.  There is, at any rate, a deer carcass at the bottom of our hill, just down from our back gate.  We had become suspicious when crows started to gather a week ago, and then of course our unusual siting of a turkey vulture was a major clue.  It is not unusual for deer to die over winter, even in the more moderate middle part of our State, and we knew that he was always alone and seemed to be awfully skinny, but it is sad.  And it is always sadder to lose 'someone' you have known and loved.  I feel guilty, too, that we didn't pick up on the signals sooner, worried that he might have suffered needlessly by the too-eager carrion birds when we could have helped him cross over more quickly with a single shot.    The news, and now our back yard, are too full of death reports lately, this is not our normal Spring.   My brother, who knows more about outdoorsy stuff than I do, says that sometimes a single deer will be shunned by the herd, perhaps because they know it cannot survive and they are not willing to share their warmth and food with a lost cause.    All I know is that it will be a bit hard for me not to think of the remaining herd as The Mean Deer, who wouldn't let our little guy join in all their (rein)deer games.

I am working on making masks, first for Jack's sister and nieces, and then for some local hospitals, which are begging for them.   Although they are obviously not useful for front-line work, we found out that the people who clean the hospital rooms, the people who staff the desks, the scribes -- people who have no direct patient contact -- are all unprotected.   In these days of heightened infection, those people are sometimes accidentally exposed to an infected person, often when an incoming patient lies about their symptoms for fear of being turned away.  One of our nieces says she would like to use them over her N-95 mask, since she now is forced to re-use it anyway and figures having covers can't hurt.    The tutorials on line say that once you get in a rhythm, you can make a mask in less than ten minutes each, but my first ones took me well over an hour.   It has been very slow going.  That might be partly because the sewing machine table is at the worst possible height for my shoulder so that even a few minutes of sewing is painful.   Since I'm supposed to stretch my arm in all directions, I'm telling myself that this is just a part of my physical therapy.  I made Jack model the first masks for me because I cannot reach behind my head yet to tie them.   I would have liked to use elastic instead of ties, but there is apparently a national shortage of that, too.   I am also still trying to find my jewelry wire and pipe cleaners to use in the nose area, all supplies I know I had in the old house, but haven't yet uncovered here.   I just don't remember whether I kept any of those supplies or whether, more likely, I donated them.  

My son is finally able to work from home, since the University is not an essential service under our Governor's new "shelter in place" order.   I am very glad about that.  Even though he was not seeing a lot of people at work, he was seeing some, and it made me anxious, both for him and for his family back home.  My daughter is still in the Orleans Parish jail, but I have to admit that New Orleans does not sound like a safe place to be right now, inside or outside the prison system.    This is not a good time or a good country to be poor and disabled.  Her father, a photographer and musician, has been exposed and is awaiting test results for Covid-19.  I was surprised to learn today that several people I distantly know have been exposed, and at least one has tested positive.  Although  Michigan is not at the top of the list for infections (so far), we are in the top ten and the numbers are climbing.

My brother Bill wants to go home.  His car will not be repaired for several weeks at the  earliest because the shop is closed down and, at the time of shut down, the parts hadn't yet arrived.   I am reminding myself hourly that he is an adult and capable of making his own decisions, and my husband believes we could get him there and back without having to stop for gas or a recharge, limiting out exposure.   I don't blame him, of course, because I would hate being forced away from my own home and my own stuff, but I am not ready for him to leave.    I (think I) would feel so much better if we were in normal times and had been able to get physical therapy and nurse evaluations for him before he thought about going back to live alone.

My other brother, John, reminds me that this is a good sign, really, that Bill is feeling well enough to complain.   He is not wrong.

I remind myself hourly that we are the lucky ones.  we have the resources to order what we need, plenty of food, and generally good health.  We have a very comfortable house and a lovely view.  Our exposure is extremely limited now that we aren't visiting the hospital every day, and we intend to keep it that way.  So far, knock wood, our families are safe and healthy.    My goodness, unlike so many people, we have heat and running water and indoor plumbing.  We are anxious about the government's hurry to reopen businesses, because we believe the science that indicates that this could all come crashing back down.  But for the moment, we are doing fine, and I have been trying to keep my mind right here in the present.  

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Sheltering In Place

My brother was released from the rehabilitation facility in record time -- rushed along, no doubt, by the Coronavirus since they are trying to lessen the dangers of group living.    Their protocol called for him to be transferred to our car by wheelchair, but they just handed him a cane and held the door open for him, wheeling his bag of clothes out on a cart and leaving it there for us to gather.   He is doing amazingly well, considering his huge aneurysm, his broken back, his age and his recent surgery.  He was already weak  before the accident, and he is certainly no worse for wear.   We are feeding him regular meals, mostly home cooked (not always since the Home Cook has gotten pretty lazy), and enjoying his company.    He claims he will return home to Grayling next month, but he admits that he wouldn't mind staying, so we'll see.   I do not like him living alone and so far away, but I also sympathize with his being just homesick for his own stuff and his own place.

We are, of course, hunkering down, sheltering in place.   I say "of course" although it appears that many people are not taking this seriously, and I expect that will extend both the time and the seriousness of the pandemic.  After Trump's election to office, nothing that people choose to do can surprise me with its stupidity.    In my opinion, he has botched the response to this emergency, which we knew about for a couple of months while he called it a "democratic hoax," but history will be a better and more qualified judge than I could ever be.  What I do know is that we have relatives who are nurses and they are not being protected with the proper equipment or procedures, even though supposedly the government has been planning and studying pandemic response since I was a child, decades ago.   As one nurse in the family told me today, they have the procedures and some of the equipment on hand, they just have not been allowed to use it.  Meanwhile, she and her coworkers have been needlessly exposed numerous times to infected patients.  So much in emergency planning depends on what level of "emergency" the federal and state governments declare, and they are slow to act.  

I am supposed to be doing about 3 months of physical therapy now to regain my range of motion and strength after the rotator cuff surgery, but I have cancelled it for now.  There were no visible precautions at my local PT facility beyond a quick wipe down of the tables and some (not all) of the exercise equipment.  So I asked for a list of exercises and am trying to do them at home.   Of course it would be better to have their help, and especially their help in stretching my arm and shoulder, but I can't risk bringing infection back to my little pod.   I'm not happy about this, and I hope the situation changes, or at least I hope that I continue to improve even if slowly. 

They have finally closed our local restaurants and bars, but carry out/curbside pick up is allowed, and we would like to support our local small businesses as much as we can.   Still, I can't help but wonder how safe that is since the workers generally lack health insurance and are unlikely to stay home if sick.  Of course, I wonder the same about the delivery people who bring our groceries since we are fortunate enough to be able to use that service rather than go into the stores ourselves.  My son and his family gave me a delivery subscription for my birthday last year, in anticipation of my surgery.  Who would have thought it would have been such a welcome gift even after I began my recovery?!

Search and Rescue team members are considered first responders.  As a result, over the years of our involvement, my husband and I have received many certifications and have both participated in many of the tabletop exercises to respond to this kind of thing, so we are especially frustrated.  We know how this "sausage" is supposed to be made and things are definitely not going as we were taught or as we once would have expected.  Just today, good friends posted that they drove up north today -- a trip that will definitely require stops for gasoline and potty breaks -- to purchase baby chicks, as they do every year.   They remarked that it was a beautiful day and that the rest stops were crowded.   People  here do not understand yet that this is not "every year," and I think many of them will be surprised in a month at how many have died.   If it doesn't touch their families, maybe they will never notice.   Perhaps, like Trump, they will claim they have no responsibility for it.

OK, I'm getting off the soapbox, at least momentarily.  We are doing fine in my little abode.   I made hot fudge today because we have ice cream in the freezer.  With nothing much to do, we look forward to food.   I found some patterns for face masks on line and have promised to make some for our nurse relatives who are short on supplies.   As one local nurse pointed out online, it is partly just a political statement -- a passive way of pointing out that the necessary supplies have still not been provided, that hospitals are overwhelmed long before the virus hits its peak.  This is a troubling time, and it will make me feel a little bit good to help in any small way I can.  And goodness knows, I have enough non-designated fabric in my stash to make a whole bunch of them.  The hospitals in our area are actually asking people to make them and drop them off.   In some southern states, where the nieces and grand nieces live and work, the hospitals are still denying that they will ever need them, while asking the nurses to reuse their hospital masks and store them in between shifts in a paper bag.   

I guess I wasn't off my soapbox after all.

Now that it is a little warmer, my husband has occasionally been able to practice his bagpipes (the louder Great Highlands) outdoors again.    Neighbors who ignored us last year, when they could have come to talk, now come out to listen, fashionably distant.    When Jack notices them, he responds politely and then comes inside, shy about an audience.   I think he is missing the point.  :)   

We've had to cancel Dominoes, which is a great loss to us and, we know, to Evan, too.   Jack and I have taken to playing, after my brother goes to bed, the kinds of games we used to play on train rides, mindless but companionable games like 'ten thousand' with dice.    

I know it has only been a week that we have been truly quarantined since my brother was still in rehab until last weekend.   Even so, already, I miss seeing my grandkids.    I miss seeing my son and daughter in law.   I miss being able to pretend we will travel sometime soon.   I even miss standing in the annoying grocery lines or  doing the banking.  I guess my restlessness makes sense since I was already in a sort of involuntary quarantine from my surgery, but now I fear this will go on for a long time.   I wonder what kind of neighborhood and society and world we will have when it is finally over.  I worry about what self-serving things politicians will do to turn this crisis into some kind of boon for themselves.  I have concern expressed over the possibility of postponing the election, and I cannot even bear to imagine the possibilities.

I hope you are keeping safe and that we will look back on this time and laugh about how we overreacted.   But looking at Europe and Asia, I am thinking that isn't going to happen.

Meanwhile, I will sit by the fire and chat with my brother.   I will be glad for my husband's warmth next to me in bed at night.   And I will remind myself again, how lucky I am.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020


I saw my first red-winged blackbird of the season yesterday, a sure sign of spring!  "Our" pileated woodpecker has been back a couple of times, too.  We have not seen "our" deer in just over two weeks, although we have not been home often enough to really know what's in our yard.  There's been a fair amount of rain and the creek is high. 

The past two weeks have gone by in a blur.  On Monday, February 24, my brother Bill (the brother with the large (8.3 cm) aneurysm) decided that he would pick up some pastry from a good bakery there in Grayling and drive down to see me and to "help" during my recovery.   As always, I asked him not to drive the 100 miles; he will be 80 in a month or so, and is not in good health, so I am not comfortable with his driving long distances.   (I'm inserting this background info because I need to tell it to SOMEone, and, as you will see, it would be rude to say "I told you so" to my brother, but there it is!)

Bill was nearly to my area when his car went off the road, across several lanes of two freeways and a medium, and wrecked his car.  There were no witnesses, but it is possible that he was going too fast, or that he blew a tire, since the body shop said his right front tire was "exploded."   The State Police thought speed was the more likely explanation, but they did not give him a ticket.  When the car finally came to rest, someone passing by called 911, and Bill called me.  He was taken to a hospital near our home where they discovered that he broke and shattered 3 vertebrae in his back, L3, L4 and T13.  (It took them nearly a week to figure out that he also had an aneurysm, which did not impress me much.)

I had been home for a few weeks by then, leaving only for one doctor's appointment, and resting much of each day.  And so my first post-surgical outing was to the local hospital, where I spent 12 hours a day for the next two weeks.   Jack spent nearly as much time as I did, so life got a little topsy turvy.  We never got those pastries.  :(

My brother is a stubborn old man, for sure, but he is also definitely a rock star.  He argued with the hospital staff, with me as his advocate, to bypass the usual brace and months-long healing period and to opt for a fairly new (around here) procedure where they inject glue into the vertebrae to harden them and skip much of the healing process that has to take place before they can order physical therapy.    The scheduled and then, just as he was to be wheeled down, cancelled the surgery, saying he was not stable enough and they were not convinced that he truly understood the level of risk he was facing.   He remained steadfast in his request and I argued for him, explaining that we actually understood the risk as well as the medical team since it had been over a year that he was told that he was unlikely to live another day.   He expained that his time line was not the same as the average person's, and that dying under anesthetic help no terror for him.  In his mind, it was a win-win situation, either the procedure would help, or else he would have a painless death.  The doctors took another week to have multiple teams come in and talk to him, but they finally performed the surgical procedure last Friday.   It involved full anesthesia, placing him on his stomach, and pounding hollow needles into each area that needed to be glued.    He not only survived, he was up and walking a couple of hours later.     He is not strong, he is not steady, he is not pain-free, but he is clearly not a quitter.

We moved him to a short term rehab facility this past weekend, the same day as the surgery, and he is working with therapists there.   We visit every day but no need to stay for the entire day anymore.  As soon as he is safe to walk around our house without another person acting as a spotter, and can use the bathroom himself, he will come home with us for additional out-patient physical therapy.  It is still his goal to return to his solitary life in a small town far from family or friends, but we will take that as it comes.  It will not surprise me a bit to see him reach his goal.    And, thank goodness, he has come to the conclusion on his own that he will not drive long distances again.

For my part, I was not really ready to be up all day with no chance to get comfortable, arguing with staff, hovering over my brother to be sure he had things (like water) that the staff sometimes neglected.  I was sore and cranky.   Ha, I AM sore and cranky.  But no ill effects as far as my physical healing is concerned.  

Yesterday I went to my surgeon's office for my 6 week follow up and was told that I can take the brace off and leave it off 24 hours a day -- if I want to.   Most people report that they  need to use the brace from time to time to rest the shoulder, and I am quickly seeing the wisdom of that.   It has been off for a day and a half and the burning is sometimes pretty fierce.  I will be starting my own physical therapy as soon as I can schedule it, and in the meantime, I am doing the exercises I used to do before the surgery.   My physician's assistant told me that I can now use my surgical arm to feed myself, to wash my hair, to take care of my basic needs -- except, of course, that I can't.    The arm is still swollen and very weak.   I can only move it in any direction a couple of inches.   It hurts more now, and I know that the hurt is going to get worse in therapy, but I also know that it will get better, little by little.  Still no weights, and I am not allowed to carry anything heavier than my cell phone; I don't get to work on strengthening my muscles for at least another month.

So there's all the  news.   Hopefully my brother and I will both continue to improve and be ready for new adventures by summer.   Bill has a goal of fly fishing at the end of May, and I certainly hope he  makes it.   My goal is perhaps simpler, just to be able to sleep comfortably in my own bed again.   We both need to be patient in the meantime.

Just as with every other year, this has seemed like a long winter.  But  I noticed just today that it was still bright outside at dinner time.  The days are getting a bit longer, and that helps to lift everyone's spirits.  And I saw my first peek at Spring right outside our front doorway.

We are hoping to continue with baby steps toward sunnier days.  There are always worries and challenges, and sometimes the pain seems to outweigh the joy, but life is good.