Tuesday, September 16, 2014

45 Hours

The morning after we learned Bill had had a stroke, I awoke around 7, as I usually do.  Tolliver was waiting for me on the porch rail, as he usually is, and I fed the animals, as I usually do.  I made coffee, I packed a bag for Bill, gathered up the chargers he would need, some clothes, a do rag, etc.  He had texted me that he was given special yellow socks (no-slip) to mark him as a fall risk on the ward.  He told me later he had set off the bed alarm trying to get to the bathroom, and the staff had run in, cheerfully informing him that he couldn’t get away with sneaking out of bed.  All over his room were large signs, rimmed in yellow, with the phrase, “Call, don’t fall!!”  

He had posted to FB that he was on a liquid diet, and this concerned me.  Remembering the reference to a neurosurgeon the night before, I wondered if this were related to a possible surgery.  (Later I realized they would not have allowed him any intake, but I wasn't at my best at this point.)
I called my mom who offered to make me breakfast before I left, and I found my way to the hospital.  Bill had texted me his room number, and when I arrived around ten, he was gone, presumably off to some test.  

I sat with the iPad for over an hour.  As our friends woke up on Friday morning, they were receiving and reading my email from the night before, and the replies, via text, email and fb were rolling in.  I answered each one, but also watched my Facebook newsfeed fill in as people posted about their Fridays.  I was happy to see all the other things going on in the world.  I was able to keep some perspective about my situation and hear joyful and humorous news from my community.  At some point the doctor came in, initially looking for Bill.  When he didn’t find him, though, he introduced himself to me.  The doctor is very good-looking, makes eye contact when he shakes your hand with a firm grip, and generally instills great confidence in his ability to provide medical care.  Except that he is decades younger than I.  

Even though I have worked with residents for all these years, I’m still surprised to find a doctor that is not yet shaving.  Oy, this was going to be an adjustment.
In the end, though, he was wonderful.  He would eventually talk to me about how the neurologist, though not yet on site, was in careful communication with the team, was checking all the scans and tests, and guiding the specific treatments.  I felt confident in the care and throughout the process was struck by the consistency of information and the team's cohesive treatment approach.

While Bill was gone, I took a call from one of his best friends.  I described the situation to him and he said he had just seen new information on this type of stroke--that people miss the signs because they are unlike what we expect from stroke.  Even primary-care docs are missing it, he said.  He told me there has been an increase in these types of stroke, and the injuries to the neck are being cause by (or triggered by, at least) things like yoga classes, chiropractic care, and the sinks in barber shops and beauty parlors.  This was consistent with the ER interviews, where they asked Bill if he were getting chiropractic care or had recently been to the barber shop.  This made me feel better--that it's a "thing," and that other people, even doctors, were missing the signs.  Perhaps I had not totally failed my husband after all; perhaps another wife might have also gone to work the day her husband had a stroke.

Bill had two MRIs while he was gone, and he came back hungry and quite tired of the MRI machine.  Almost immediately, a speech therapist came in to assess his ability to swallow, and cleared him for solid food.  This was a relief to me, as it meant the liquid diet did not indicate a concern about surgery; and she promised she would rush the information over to the dining staff so he could have a solid lunch.  She was not in time, and when his beef broth lunch appeared, he despaired--he may never eat solid food again!!  One of the NAs was in the room, saw the problem, and called down to dining to fix it.  Within a few minutes Bill had a solid-food lunch and felt greatly relieved. 

Bill was then cleared by the physical therapist who came in to assess his coordination and balance.  He was able to do all she asked, and even when she asked him to stand, she was surprised with how fast he stood.  "All my clients are 85," she said, "I'm in no hurry."  She fastened a bright pink belt around him and walked with him in the hall, holding on in case he fell.  But he didn't.  She said he wobbled slightly at one point, but was otherwise functioning well.  She cleared him completely, without the recommendation for further physical therapy.  She mentioned, though, that if he had difficulty in the future, he could get outpatient physical therapy, and she recommended a provider in town.  This improved our moods greatly, and we were both in good spirits when Bill started to have visitors.  Bill has an easy sense of humor and was happy to be the butt of jokes about the big dead spot on his brain.  He also got a printed greeting card from the hospital, which a friend had sent in electronically -- "So glad your brain didn't leak out of your head (because of all the ego stuffed in there)."  It would be fairly smooth sailing from here.

We napped in the late afternoon, and at 5:15 on a Friday afternoon, the neurologist came to see Bill face to face.  He was clearly familiar with Bill's case, reported in-depth information completely consistent with everything we had heard from the team, and explained the decision-making regarding the treatment offered and what was planned.  Again, the consistency of the information and the thoroughness of the explanations gave us great confidence in the care.

He reported that Bill's balance was likely to return in full, and he was cleared to drive.  He said he thought Bill would be able to ride his motorcycle once the blood thinners were discontinued (in about six months) but that he strongly advised against riding a motorcycle while taking the medication.  He explained the aggressive treatment of the arterial dissection--that Bill was young and should expect to recover fully with aggressive treatment.  I felt an incredible sense of relief that he would eventually be able to ride again.  We would skip the winter, obviously, but that's ok--the almanac is calling for a cold, wet winter anyway.  But he would not have to give up one of his favorite activities.

As a second wave of visitors came, I went home to take care of the animals and await my best girlfriend who had promised to visit.  It was about 8 when I got home, and I planned to clean up a bit and generally prepare for her arrival.  We had already agreed she would stay at my mom's house, but I thought it would be nice to offer the option of staying with us.  Unfortunately, I discovered I simply could not keep my eyes open.  I don't think I have ever been so tired in my life.  I called my mom who thought it ludicrous for my friend to stay anywhere else BUT her place, and I fell asleep.  In seconds.

I popped awake at midnight, when my friend was expected to arrive, and in a few minutes she was there.  We chatted a few hours and made plans for the following morning.  She went off to my mom's, and I again slept.

Saturday morning was similar to Friday.  I ate a quick breakfast with my mom, said good morning to my bestie, and headed to the hospital.  Bill had phoned me earlier to say he would be discharged that morning.  And sure enough, within a few hours, the nurse was reading the discharge instructions and going over his medication.  He had a follow-up appointment scheduled with his primary-care doc and four new meds.  From the minute we walked in to the ER door to the minute he walked out to the parking lot, was 45 hours.

I stopped at the pharmacy and had his medication filled.  They asked about the situation, and I explained Bill had had a stroke.  I told them circumstances and the presenting symptoms, and they expressed shock that they had not heard of such a presentation.  We talked about the risk factors, and the pharmacist said she had heard that some of these things increased the risk of stroke, but she assumed they were the typical presentation we think of with one-side paralysis or weakness.  I felt glad I was spreading the word about this type of stroke.  I also felt a little better, again, about missing the signs. 

Given his blood thinners, I had questions about pain relief.  The pharmacist recommended Tylenol.  I asked about maximum doses and she said no more than eight tablets a day; I took a marker and wrote "Max 8/day" on the box, and later on the bottle directly.  I didn't want to leave anything up to memory at this point.  At home I set up a dry erase board with "Tylenol Times" written on it, and we started tracking when he took them; since they were taken as needed, I feared we would forget taking a dose and end up doubling up.  So much had changed in our routine and so much new information was present, I worried we would make a mess of things.

Saturday was more resting and a few visitors, and we went out to dinner with our closest friends.  Sunday was the start of the casserole brigade and several visitors who came to cheer us up.  We felt supported and cared for.  I had originally thought we would not need anything from our friends, other than their well wishes.  When they suggested sending food, I felt guilty, like we were fine and would be ok on our own.  The truth was, though, we were exhausted.  I had become almost numbed with all the worry and relief.  I think my emotional self was simply overloaded, and new information wasn't getting in very well.  Bill, meanwhile, was feeling a new lease on life and feeling excited about living.  He chatted happily with friends and opened our fridge, encouraging everyone to drink up the beer, since he would be unable to for six months. 

By Monday I was back at work.  Bill had arranged to have friends stay with him during the day, and so we had company Sunday through Tuesday nights.  By Wednesday Bill had seen his doctor and was driving again.  Things seemed to be settling in to normal, although Bill continued to be tired. 

For several days Bill said he would have sudden, sharp pains in his head, but they were gone by about Tuesday.  For several days, he said, "My brain doesn't feel right.  I can't describe it; it's just not right."  That, too, had stopped by midweek.  Every once in a while he doesn't remember something, but it's usually something that happened during the high stress of the hospitalization. 

Things really appear to have returned to normal.  He will be on blood thinners until the spring, so there will be a Medicalert bracelet soon, along with frequent labs and concerns about green, leafy vegetables.  Everything else seems to be exactly as it was.  What a strange adventure it has been!

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Longest Night

It was a Tuesday morning, and I was just about to leave for work, when my husband became suddenly ill.  He was nauseated, vomiting, and with a killer headache.  He said when he stood up, the room started spinning, and he vomited immediately; feeling the room swim around him, the nausea unavoidable.

I called my office to say I would not be on time.  “My husband is suddenly violently ill,” I said. “I’ll be about 20 minutes late.” My supervisor laughed at me.  “Take your time; take care of your husband.”  Later, when I logged in to our computerized system EXACTLY on time, she and I laughed together about the exchange.  My husband is grown, he can take care of himself, but he did deserve a few minutes’ TLC.

After calling work, I returned to him, lying on the bed.  His head hurt, he couldn’t keep down the Advil I gave him, and he was miserable.  We ran through the possibilities—ear infection, vertigo, migraine.  I asked him if he was afraid it was something more serious, and he said no, he was just upset about feeling so bad and knowing he needed to be at work.  We were both very wrong.

His vertigo, nausea, and headache did not relent.  That night he was able to have a little soup, as long as he didn’t move his head too much.  He fought to keep it down, along with some Advil.

When he awoke the next morning, still miserable, we called his doctor.  We made a same-day appointment.  This time I really was going to be late for work.

The doctor assessed him—his blood pressure was fine, his blood sugar was fine, he did not have the neck stiffness associated with meningitis, and although he was still dizzy, he could walk and function.  She checked his eyes, and could tell his brain was not pushing against his eye balls.  She verbalized her own thinking of the differential diagnosis, landed on virus, and sent him home.  She encouraged us to call back Friday if he wasn’t completely better.  He ate a small dinner, struggling bite by bite to keep it down.

The next morning was Thursday, and because of our schedules, I was already at work when he awoke, and right away called to tell me not only was he not feeling better, but he felt much worse.  The room was still spinning violently, nothing was helping the headache which was now unbearable, and he couldn’t keep anything down.  He called his doctor for advice.  She suggested the ER for imaging.

I left work early, although honestly, we debated the need for this.  We know, though, how long these things take, and figured the earlier we got started, the earlier we would get home.

We walked through the emergency room door of Duke Regional Hospital at 5:30 and were triaged almost immediately.  The triage nurse also went with vertigo, apologetically warned us that the wait time was nearly three hours, and sent us back to the waiting room.  Bill lay down and slept.  I read Cuckoo’s Calling by JK Rowling on my iPad. 

About three hours later we were shown a room in the ER, and at 9:01, the team came in for the assessment.  There were questions about the symptoms, we said we were there for imaging, but we were concerned about the cost.  The nurse very appropriately, with just a touch of firmness but not overbearing, said, “No, we’re going to do a CT scan.  With symptoms like this, you really need it.  In the end, it’s probably a virus, but we don’t want to take a chance.”  She strung up an IV fluid bag.  The sign on the wall said the wait for a head CT is about 90 minutes.

We could hear other patients with headache and nausea, some with vertigo, getting fluids, getting scans, feeling better, going home.  We expressed gratitude for our health insurance and resigned ourselves to the CT scan.  Nursing staff with various credentials came in to offer pain meds, some oral, some through the IV.  They started the contrast.

Bill went for the scan about 90 minutes later, came back, and at a few minutes after 11, Jill-the-nurse came in to report that Bill had had a stroke.  There was a “sizeable” infarct – or section of his brain that was dead and would never recover.  While speaking to us, she interrupted herself with, “That’s the neurosurgeon on the phone.  Let me talk to him and I’ll come right back.”


The nurse was going to speak to the neurosurgeon about my husband.  I stared at the door where she had just disappeared.  Alarm bells sounded dimly in the way-back part of my world.  There had been a stroke.  There was an infarct.  There will be a neurosurgeon.

Bill, it turns out, was feeling waves of relief.  He had a diagnosis.  They would know what they’re treating.  The pain would stop soon.  He lay his head on the pillow and chatted pleasantly with me.

I did what NO ONE should ever do.  I knew, even as I did it, that it was a mistake.  I know better.  I opened up my iPad and googled cerebral infarct.  Within seconds I had this sentence forever in my brain:  Cerebral infarctions vary in their severity with one third of the cases resulting in death.

Bill was talking pleasantly next to me.  I have no idea what he was saying, but I was sure my face betrayed my fear.  The next few minutes passed in a fog, and at some point Bill looked at me, and said, “Is this bad?”

“Honey, it’s bad.”

His demeanor didn’t really falter.  “It’s gonna be ok,” he said, and I started to re-orient myself.  The stroke had happened; the infarct was there.  My husband was not dead.  He was also not different.  He was his usual self; he could talk and joke, and was not at all diminished.  He just couldn’t walk without getting dizzy and sick.  But in fact, there were times when he could walk fine, as long as he held his head steady.  The room continued to swim in and out of focus, but I started to feel less like I was floating over a huge chasm.

At some point the nurse came in, said the doctor would be in to see us soon, that Bill would be admitted to the hospital, and I think she probably started some new medication.  She expressed her own surprise that Bill was doing so well, saying “What’s remarkable is that he has no deficits.  It’s incredible, really.” 

In this period, I started texting some of my closest friends with the news.  It was about 11:30.  I found out later, each in turn had done the same as I, had seen the “one third of the cases resulting in death” sentence, and responded tactfully. 

I went back to Nurse Jill and asked her as straightforwardly as I could, “I understand the event has happened.  He will heal from here.  He will get better, as much as the brain can, which can vary.  But he is not going to get worse.  The situation is done, and it’s all better from here.  Am I right?”

She confirmed that, yes, this was as bad as it would get, and it would, indeed, get MUCH better. 

I could breathe again. 

I started texting those friends that things were ok, and were only going to get better.

“My husband had a stroke,” kept coming in to my head.  I couldn’t stop it.  Such a daunting phrase.

The doctor came in the room.  He was amazing.  He explained to Bill that he had had a stroke, and now there was permanent cell death to a spot near the back of his head.  He explained that the stroke happened in the part of the brain that affects balance.  It was all starting to make sense.

He explained that this type of stroke is most often caused by an injury to the neck, where the artery clots while trying to heal; the clot travels into the brain and gets stuck, blocking off blood and oxygen to the neighboring cells.  He said we can never really know with things as complicated as the brain, but that he had plenty of reasons to assume Bill would make a full recovery. 

He was drawing a picture of the brain that looked an awful lot like Q-bert.  I said that out loud just as the realization hit me that he was too young to know what Q-bert was.  Sigh…

He explained that it was important to verify its cause, and not assume, in order to effectively prevent another.  We agreed totally.  He said there would be another CT scan, this time of his neck, to assess the damage to the artery.  The two large arteries in the back of the neck that feed the brain are called vertebral arteries, and damage to these arteries is called a dissection.  He was writing with a magic marker, and wrote next to Q-bert, “cerebellar stroke,” saying “This is what we know.”  Then he wrote next to his little drawing of a heart and its big arteries, “vertebral dissection,” and said, “This is what we want to confirm.” 

Some part of my brain marveled at his bedside manner.  I felt informed, comforted, respected, and hopeful.  He even said, after mulling it over for a few minutes while he spoke, “Q-bert was the one that jumped, right?” 

I started to believe it when Bill had said, “It’s going to be all right.”

A nurse came in to do a simple chest x-ray.  Although they explained why at the time, I don’t remember now, but I think because they wanted to rule out gross abnormalities of Bill’s heart, and to identify any other risks that might be slinking around in his chest and abdomen.  The nurse pointed me in the direction of glass doors so I could get enough signal to use the phone, and I called my mom.  As I dialed, I fought back a wave of tears.  The urge left me, and it never returned.  I couldn’t help feeling like we had come incredibly close to disaster, but I also felt incredibly grateful.  It had already turned out ok.   

My worries waved back over me throughout the night.  Even though I knew with my thinking self that the worst was over, I still had a visceral reaction to the dangerousness.  “… with one third of the cases resulting in death.”  I remember a moment around 2 when I had the Kindle app open in front of me, and I was staring at the last few pages of Cuckoo’s Calling.  I had a surreal feeling of being in a dream.  I was sure I would wake up any second.  I would be in my room, Eddie next to me, snoring his little dog snores, and Bill there.  I would look around the room and feel the relief that this was just a dream.  I checked in to my senses and my intuition.  Could it be a dream?  I wasn’t waking.  I knew it was real.  From now on, there would never be a day when this hadn’t happened.  I wasn’t going to wake up.

At 3:30 we were still waiting on the neck CT scan, our animals had not had dinner, and Bill said he really just wanted to nap.  He suggested I go home, and I agreed, asking him to call me when the result from the CT came back.

An observing part of my brain was surrealistically aware I was driving out of a hospital parking lot at 3:30 in the morning.  When was the last time I was even on the road at this hour?  What was I doing driving in the pitch black, in this strange car, at this end of town?  How did this happen?

I plugged in my phone and blared Spiral Rhythm, going straight to “The Faith Inside.”  I was grateful that this is my daily choice of music; the familiarity was soothing beyond the message, “There ain’t nothing in this world that faith can’t get you through.”  The surreal observer asked the atheist what, exactly, she had faith in.  The doctors?  The science?  Bill?  I shoved those thoughts aside and basked in the soothing music; I thought about the thank-you note I would write to Spiral Rhythm; I wondered again what the hell I was doing following my headlights down Duke Street in the middle of the night.

At home I rounded up the animals I could.  Tolliver was out on his nightly prowl and would not return before 6, but everyone else was there, wondering why the dinner service was so late.  I fed them with little ado, and told Eddie aloud, “Daddy won’t be home for a few days.”  He didn’t seem to appreciate the gravity of the news as he nuzzled my knee.

I stared around the house.  I tried to imagine myself going to bed and falling asleep.  Alone.  In my house.   “… with one third of the cases resulting in death.”  I wandered over to the computer.  I texted Bill to see if he was ready for me to send out an email to our friends.  He agreed, it was time.  I sat down and drafted the most incredible email of my life.  I filled in the address list to about 75 people.  I realized there were more on Facebook and messaged a few people there.  It’s an embarrassment of riches to email nearly 100 people, none of them from our jobs, when something important happens.  I again felt grateful for my Village, for living in the City of Medicine, for my husband being well.

I went to bed with Murder She Wrote on Netflix.  It’s just enough of a distraction to allow me to sleep.  I was out before the first notes of the charming and cheerful theme song played.  Bill woke me briefly to say the CT scan had come back positive—the cause was a vertebral dissection.  The mysteries were all solved, and recovery would continue.  I slept.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Kitchen Reno - First Installment

I have a home renovation problem.  I'm sure this will come as no surprise to those who know me.  I have grand plans--oh so grand!!--for my home, but a teeny tiny budget (or really, NO budget), and the two don't really go together.

However, what I also have is a whole lot of pluck, and I really don't like to think there are things I can't do.

And so it came to pass that Bill and I are remodeling our entire kitchen.  Ourselves.

Bill, at least, is a professional at such things, and knows how to do all the things needed to remodel a kitchen.  I, the lackey, am there simply to plan big and screw things up.

So Bill and I started to plan our kitchen remodel.  We agreed on one big detail:  everything was coming out.  The laminate-over-particle-board countertops, now swollen and warped with 25 years of moisture?  Out!  The low-end, warehouse-store cabinets?  Out!  The Pergo-knock-off flooring?  Out.  The chair rail, the sink, the corner cabinets, the range hood that was woefully underpowered for our kitchen, the out-of-code electrical outlets, the dated switches, the color scheme, the popcorn ceiling, the horrific track lighting, the worst-ever dining room "chandelier" nastything?  Out, out, OUT!!!

I also knew that I wanted a kitchen unlike anyone else's kitchen.  I have watched many home renovation shows, and while the kitchens are often beautiful, to me, they look supremely generic.  Ultimately they end up with walls of cabinets, regardless of how high-end they are, and I really wanted to avoid the standard kitchen look.  Add to this the fact that we can't afford "high-end" anything, and we had quite a conundrum.

Enter the Rehab Addict, my favorite of all home reno shows, and a woman I aspire to be.  She's hot, strong, opinionated, and does beautiful work.  WWRAD?  What would the Rehab Addict do?

I asked myself what did kitchens look like before the gabillion-dollar prefab kitchen cabinet industry came to be?  And I realized, kitchens had FURNITURE.  Work tables, china cabinets, shelves and hooks.  We could do this.  We could convert our kitchen into something no one else would have.

Then we were at the Re-Use Warehouse in Durham, and we found the motherlode. It was an 8-ft piece of granite, 28 inches wide, with finished edges. They were asking an incredibly low price on it.  I know this because I have lusted after granite for over a decade, and knowing I had a small kitchen had always thought I could find a small piece for cheap.  I never could, until now. 

So naturally we snatched it up.

That piece of granite is now wrapped in a blanket in our living room, where it's been for several months.

The next thing to do was to find a sink cabinet.  We agreed we wanted a buffet style cabinet, made of real wood, that would sit away from the wall and hold the sink on top of it.  We were lucky to find JUST THE THING at a local antique store--it's a true pine cabinet with a rich stain and a gorgeous, sturdy solidity that will stand up to the task of holding our sink.  Since it was also priced remarkably low, we grabbed it, and it now sits in our living room as well.

We had been planning this extravaganza for months, but we were holding off as we knew we were going to Disney in May.  We held off, with great effort, promising ourselves we would get fully into the kitchen reno once we got back.  So after a weekend of rest, it was time to start on the kitchen.  We agreed, our weekends for the foreseeable future would be a solid day of work and a day of fun and rest.  Every weekend, though, had one day of work.  And so it came to be the weekend of the ceiling installation. We decided the counters would be an asset to this task, so we waited on the demolition.  As you know if you watch the DIY shows, demolition ROCKS.  It's a pleasure to tear out crap in your house.  Woohooo!!!  But first, the ceiling.

Our anxiety was running high that first weekend.  Bill knew firsthand what a difficult task it is to install ceiling drywall.  I had never done it, but I am aware of how difficult it is.  I know how heavy the sheets are, I know they are difficult to wield, and I also know that installing fresh drywall--regardless of where it's going--involves many coats of mud in the seams, with hours and hours of sanding.  I almost couldn't bear it.

Interestingly, to me at least, was that Bill was also anxious.  I guess he just knew it was a bear of a task looming over us, and he wanted it to go well. 

Our first task was to go to Lowes and purchase the sheets of thin drywall we would use to cover the popcorn ceiling.  I had already smoothed several ceilings elsewhere in the house, but because of the moisture prevalent in kitchens, the type of popcorn used there cannot be scraped off and must be either replaced or covered.  We went with covered.  And at Lowes that morning, we hit our first snag.

We knew the sheets of dry wall would not fit in Bill's CRV, so we borrowed a friend's Element. But guess what, they don't fit in that either.  They are four feet wide, which did fit diagonally through the Element opening, but they are brittle, weak, and vulnerable, and cannot rest diagonally for the ride home.  We experienced great stress and verklemptitude in the Lowe's parking lot, but we were saved by kind shoppers with a pick-up truck who were happy to carry our sheets home.  We were extra happy two weeks later when they pulled up next to us at a stop light, recognized us, and asked how the project was going.  I love the people of Durham.

Once we got the drywall home, we then engaged in the puzzle-solving skills that are needed to match the dry wall up to the ceiling rafters, some of which don't correspond to the walls.  Our stud-finder, also purchased at Lowe's that morning, could not read through the existing popcorn and was rendered largely useless.  We opted for the good old-fashioned drill method, and then marked the locations along the walls, visible througout the project.

I have to say it's a bit of a thrill to scribble on walls and the ceiling, knowing it will all be painted over soon.  I scribbled love notes to my hot husband, and since we are still knee-deep in this project, there are still hearts on my ceiling as I type this.

So we figured out how to lay out the dry wall sheets to maximize coverage, minimize cutting, and create as few seams as possible.  Thank the gods for Bill's man-brain, as I kept getting things confused, and for the life of me couldn't convert shapes from their vantage below me on the floor to above me over head.  So confusing for my non-visual brain.

The next step was to lift the sheets -- eight feet by four feet -- over our heads and hold them while Bill was also drilling them into the rafters.  Now, I aspire to be the Rehab Addict with her fantastic arms, but I am not her at all. I have little spaghetti arms that struggle with opening a soda bottle.  While I hate the thought that there are things I can't do, I have to admit my arms look more like Spongebob Squarepants arms than the kinds of well-toned appendages that are needed to wield these sheets above my head. 

We were able to lift the first sheet up and I held it with my arms shaking, panic rising, as I realized I might not be able to do this.  I felt so foolish, not being able to hold it up while Bill not only held up his end, but also held a screw to the drill bit and screwed it into the ceiling.   It was slow going, though, as he had to do it all one-handed, while the other hand held up the sheet.  Bill, you'll remember, also has significant injury to both shoulders from his motorcycle accident, and I feared we would do him in for good.  I have since looked up the weight, and now I don't feel so bad--each sheet weigh in at 40 pounds!!  My spaghetti arms didn't stand a chance.

We got the first one up, with great difficulty, and after a rest, reached for the second.  I could barely lift it.  We had stored them against the living room wall, and I realized almost immediately, I wouldn't be able to pick a second sheet up.  I have exactly one piece of dry-wall-over-my-head in me.  I learned that much that day.  One piece.  Then I'm done for.

We were thrilled, then, to discover that Home Depot rents the little crane lifty things, specifically designed for putting drywall on the ceiling, for an amazingly low price.  Why why why didn't we look into them sooner?  But so it was, and we dashed off to Home Depot, and we then installed sheet after sheet with relatively little fanfare.  Bill even "let me" drill some of them in, so I could learn the process beginning to end.  (Another thing I'm not good at?  Drilling straight.  But this is not news...)

And so we accomplished the one task that we both worried so much about.  Our marriage was intact, and I think we could both appreciate how challenging it was to each other; I think we were both proud of the other for overcoming our own doubts and plunging forth. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Hunt for the Statesville Mummy

Ages ago, a friend mentioned that there is an Egyptian mummy in a museum in Statesville.  Ever since, I have hoped to check out the museum on one of our trips to visit Bill's family.  Well, it seemed, this was the weekend for it.  We were headed to visit with Bill's uncle, so we packed up some snacks and it was Statesville or bust!  Rain in the forecast, plus a tight timeframe, had us in the car, rather than on bikes, and off we went.

I had done a quick (too quick, it turned out) search for the Statesville mummy and found the website of the museum, but I simply left it open for later persual.  We were visiting with the family when I checked the hours--ack!  They are only open till 1:00 on Saturdays!!  What a disappointment!  All this way, and we would not see the mummy.  But wait, what's this?  The mummy is no longer on display--instead, the mummy rests in storage until the town can raise enough money to greatly increase the size of the museum to make room for the mummy and other exhibits.  

I noticed an article from April celebrating a recent fundraiser that raised several thousand dollars.  Good luck, Statesville, a few hundred more of those fundraisers, and you'll be on your way!!  (Direct quote from article:  “As growth is eminent, we have the space to grow into,” said Getsinger [President of Board of Directors]). 

So this was not the day to see the mummy.  Plans had to change.  I again left the adventure in Bill's capable hands, and he again turned right--this time all the way in to Virginia, where we swooped along gorgeous, curving roads, ultimately landing at Smith Mountain Lake, where we stopped to take in phenomenal views and some fried food.  The man-made lake has scores of coves and over 500 miles of shoreline, some of which sit at the bottom of a gorgeous, tree-covered mountain.

The roads there and back toward home were amazing.  We curved through farmland and mountain vistas.  The fog became incredibly thick, and for an hour or so, we couldn't see more than a few yards.  The road emerged in front of us, out of the gray mist, with each stretch and turn unfolding like a ribbon.  At one point the light became much brighter, although the gray still surrounded us--I couldn't see any more of the road, but it was obvious we were no longer surrounded by trees.  "Is it a lake?" I asked, "or a field?"  All I knew was there was an open space on either side of us, but we couldn't tell if we were next to grass or water, the fog so thick, nothing could be made out.

At one point a yellow sign appeared suddenly next to us, with the black silhouette of a bear, informing us of their potential presence on the roads.  I gave a startled yelp, laughing that if a bear suddenly loomed in front of us, tense as I was driving through the soup, I would freak out!  "And now I'm hallucinating a dark shape in front of us," I said, and Bill replied that it was actually a car.  Oh dear!  Sure enough, its squarish outline could be made out in the distance, but soon enough it disappeared as the driver pulled just that much out of our visibility.

The fog would startlingly break at times, too, as we dipped below the cloud line.  Suddenly the beauty of Skyline Drive and similar roads would be in front of us, the wet forest, the black road, the beautiful creeks and mountain trails, the gorgeous pine-and-hardwood skyline.  Beautiful.  Breathtaking.  And then again as quickly, back into the deep fog, the world shrunk again to the monochromatic mist outside our windows.

Now, I know, those of you who come from other mountainous regions laugh at the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia.  "Hahaha," you say; "These are not mountains!  These are merely HILLS!!  Real mountains are TALL and have CLIFFS and GRAND DROPS and stretch to the sky, so high they have snow year-round."  Yes, yes, I understand your need to laugh at our little bitty mountains.  You go right ahead.  Cuz let me tell you something.  The mountains of North Carolina and Virginia are the oldest mountains in the world.  In.  The.  World. 

Other mountains may be bigger and grander and all that, but ours sing with a deep resonance of ancient wisdom, beauty and strength.  Stand quietly on a mountain in the Appalachians, and you can feel the history of an entire continent beneath your feet.  Before the Europeans, before the Vikings, before the indigenous peoples, the mountains have stood here--right here.  The New River, which runs through Virginia and NC, exposes rocks that are one billion years old.  A BILLION years old.  What do you imagine the world looked like a billion years ago?  A BILLION years ago. 

Want to feel small?  Don't stand in front of a tall mountain reaching high into the sky; stand on one of our mountains, and know that it has been here for a BILLION years.  How many creatures have stood, skittered, slithered, swum, flown, scootched, marched, run, and skedaddled in that exact spot--that exact spot--over the last BILLION years?  Who will stand in that spot a billion years from now, and not care one bit about us and our fog and our families and our thwarted mummy adventures?  

These are the thoughts that run through my brain as I twist through our beautiful state and its delightful neighbor.  And when you see the lake, it's a rare time when you can look up at one of our mountains and have a fairly flat vista in front of you.  The lake is a result of damming in the 20s, so I could not indulge a fantasy that the lake stood at the foot of this mountain for long, but the beauty of thick trees stretching overhead and rolling into the sky, made low by the tumbling fog/clouds, took my breath away.  

So I didn't get to see a 6000-year-old mummy, but I got to listen to a billion-year-old mountain. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Diego and the Rainbow Bridge

"Mom, would you mind if I put a dead chihuahua in our freezer?"

No mother wants to get this text.  But for the mother who did--my bestest ever bestie bestie--it was not a surprise. How would you like to live a life where THAT text is not even a surprise?

Later I saw the Facebook updates from both the bestie and the daughter -- anyone missing a chihuahua in our neighborhood, please call.  I realized right away, my niece wanted to let the family know gently that their beloved pet didn't make it.  I admit, though, I imagined her finding a dead dog on the sidewalk and picking it up.

However, the story, I learned, went like this...  The chihuahua, an intact male wearing a pink collar, was loose on a busy street and was struck.  My niece, who has been a vet tech for years and is in school studying animal sciences, witnessed the unfortunate scene. The chihuahua, later dubbed Diego, didn't make it.  A nearby vet was also on the scene to "assist."  

My niece would track the owners down and be kind.  But she would need some time.  Could the vet take the pink-collared wonderdog?  No.  (Why not, mean vet?  You've surely got the facility to store the poor guy!  Remind me never to go to you for my veterinary needs.)  But the vet did offer gloves and a specimen bag for appropriate home storage.  

In the days that followed, several theories of Diego's unfortunate circumstance bubbled up.  The pink collar and be-testicled nature stumped us.  We imagined the loving family, the pink collar, the kisses and hugs, the carry-the-cutie-everywhere habits, and expressed our concern for this sweet dog's family.

In the end, though, no one claimed little Diego, and he spent a week in a suburban freezer.  This morning, though, I got these texts, and we can all rest easily that Diego is in a better place...

"We are all awake getting ready to bid farewell to Diego, the frozen chihuahua.  He will be buried by the reservoir this morning.  Husband and daughter will ensure his safe travel over the rainbow bridge.  The caped crusaders in the dark of night, saving furry little souls."

I.  Love.  My.  Life.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Keeping Life Interesting

This was the weekend with Mead Day in it.  Mead Day, as some of you may already know, is the first Saturday in August and is used to bring awareness to that most wonderful elixir, honey wine.  Like many things of the 21st century, modern mead-makers have elevated this delicious treat to levels of deliciousness heretofore unheard of.  Take, for example, the Chocolate Orange Reserve blend of Starrlight Mead, which is our local meadery in Pittsboro.  Chocolate.  Orange.  Mead.


So anyway, it is my strong affection for Starrlight Mead that brings me to Mead Day each year.  And the event always delights.  For one thing, let's start off with a glass of the richly delicious Blackberry Mead, a deep red liquid of honey, blackberry, and yum, with great legs that roll gently over the palate and into the bloodstream with all the intoxicating effects of the best wines and none of the bothersome side effects--I don't get a wine headache or the wide-awake-in-the-middle-of-the-night problems that come from grape-based wines.  (Please, yes, GIVE ME MORE MEAD.)

So we first stopped in to the meadery itself, equipped ourselves with glasses of blackberry mead, and then headed into the rain to check out the local wares.  We were all surprised, of course, to find a truly autumnal day in the middle of our Carolina summer.  We have endured a very wet year, from snow and ice all winter, to a rainy rainy spring, and now a summer marked by torrential downpours, where the radar not only shows orange, but red, maroon and purple as well, along with temps pressing against three digits for several days running.

But we awoke Saturday to a morning in the low 60s, and even as we got ready to leave for the afternoon festival, I was donning a sweatshirt and preparing myself for a day more like an NC October.  The air was cool, and instead of the steamy humidity we'd been struggling through all week, we were now looking at a misty rain in a steady, but not unpleasant, downfall.  What better way to celebrate a beverage of our Celtic heritage than with a rainy day????

So as I walked among the vendors of such beautiful trinkets as jewelry, faerie houses, iron-worked candlesticks, beeswax candles and soaps, and crocheted dragons, I really didn't mind the rain that fell softly down, dampening my shirt, cooling my toes, and occasionally trickling through my hair.  The organizers had arranged the tents such that both the vendors and the attendants were under cover as we walked through the rows--only as we moved from section to section were we truly exposed to the weather.  

As with many such celebrations, a group of gentlemen hosted a sword-fighting competition with exhibition fighting and a chance to test your own skill against trained swordsmen, all for the benefit of the day's charity.  So I stood for quite some time next to the sword fighting tent and watched as grown men donned armor and beat the crap out of one another with sticks and pointy things.  We stood long enough, my friends and I, that the rain could not go unnoticed, and while we weren't soaked through, we were certainly wet.  And I realized as I stood that the rain added a certain context to the event, as I can imagine the people of Scotland and Ireland must develop a tolerance to a lot of rain.  As a younger person, the rain would have deterred me.  I would have bemoaned the bad luck, as the weather would have "ruined" the event.  Now, though, I realize life is short, and if I'm going to go enjoy a little Blackberry Mead, I'm certainly not going to let a little drizzle stop me.  I realized, as I stood there, that our Celtic ancestors must have learned that lesson early on, for in an area where rain is a near-constant companion, you must be willing to stand in the rain, or you wouldn't be able to enjoy much at all.  So while I looked out at the deep greenery around me, and enjoyed the mist coming down, and laughed at the fairly baudy humor of the sword fighters, I realized what a joy it is to be able to participate in Mead Day and not fret one bit about the cool rain or the damp chill creeping into my shoes. 

And so was my philosophical point of view as I headed back into the meadery for a second glass of blackberry yum, and then had a sit in front of the delightful band.  I spent some time talking to the crochet lady as well.  She had made dragons and gnomes and all sorts of fantasy creatures, including an Ewok and a Yoda.  She had a kitchen witch on a broom, and as we talked, she lifted the kitchen witch's cape and exposed a little, crocheted rear end, chuckling as she did so.  "You hang the witch from a string," she said, "and if she turns so she is facing out (and you can see her bum), then you know it's a night to order take-out and not cook."  I fell in love with the beautiful crochet lady who wore a lovely leather mask, flowing skirts and a large, jewel-toned dragon on her shoulder. 

Such was Mead Day, 2014.  Thank you Becky Starr (and Ben too!) of Starrlight Mead, for making it happen!!!

That evening we ate dinner with friends and then went to see Guardians of the Galaxy.  We had a great time, and laughed a lot, sitting in my living room and tossing jokes back and forth that can never be repeated, partly for their adults-only content, and partly because these things just lose something in the translation.  Nevertheless, I laughed from my belly till I had tears in my eyes.

I had made myself a promise that I would try each weekend to do something worthy of a blog entry, and then blog each week.  This would accomplish two things--make my life a lot more interesting, and get me back to writing.  I certainly succeeded this weekend, because even after the fun of Mead Day, we still had Sunday, which included another trip out to Pittsboro, this time to enjoy the big cats at Carolina Tiger Rescue.

I've let too many months go by since I was there last, and so I was delighted to get back to see my old friends.  We walked the gravel paths, chuffling at the tigers, being ignored by the lions, and getting quite a lecture from the smaller cats.  Sunday's weather was absolutely perfect, and we were able to shed the sweatshirts and trek the path with little ado.  I got to see Aria again, one of the Carolina Tiger miracles, who arrived in their care at the edge of life, having suffered from an illness that left her desperately thin and miserable.  She had owners who loved her but simply could not provide the care a tiger needs, and after only a few months at Carolina Tiger was on the mend, and now, many months later, is robust, beautiful, happy and playful, sporting a lovely and thick ruff of fur--a marked departure from the thinning, sad hair she had arrived with. 

I saw Mona and Moki, two dark orange, glorious tigers, who arrived at Carolina Tiger Rescue full of aggression and anger, seeming a lot like the patients I've worked with, angry after years of struggle, distrustful, hungry, and oozing neurotic misery.  Within a year of the careful, consistent, relatively-stress-free life at Carolina Tiger Rescue, they became lovely, poised, delightfully mischievous tigers.  They have lived at Carolina Tiger Rescue many years now, and they are wonderful .  They had never had an opportunity to be socialized properly, so they are still naughty neighbors--aggressive against the fence and full of posturing, negative energy to their peers--so they have a privacy fence constructed of used traffic barrels that allows them the illusion of alone time.  But damn, they are beautiful.

Dinner on Sunday was another treat--Carmen's Cuban Cafe near the airport.  If you're local and haven't yet been, I highly recommend it.  And so you see, promising myself a blogworthy weekend worked out, and I'm hoping the trend continues!!