Sunday, June 24, 2012

Library Book Sale 2012

Every year Curtis Memorial Library has a huge book sale that goes on for several days.  It is held in the gym of the local middle school, which conveniently happens to be a couple of minutes from us.  On Sunday, the last day of the sale, you can fill a paper grocery bag with as many books as you can get in there for $3.  We went last year and came home with a bag bulging with books.  I found one early on that I would have been willing to pay $3 for all by itself, so I figured whatever else I got was a bonus.  I got books that I knew I would not keep--I still have several of these on my shelf, since I have not yet gotten around to reading them--I keep getting distracted by the library website and end up with piles of books that have to be read first so they can be returned!  As I looked through the books this year, I saw several that I had looked at and then donated back to the library to be resold this year. 

This year our bag was full, but not to the same extent as last year.  I ended up walking around two tables  this year--food books and "hobby" books.  Bill headed for the arts section to look at photography books.  I did grab an older crochet book.  I will probably look at it and pass it on.  I got a lot of food books, though--cookbooks and narrative non-fiction about food.  I found a small paperback version of Laurel's Kitchen, which I grabbed--it is much more portable than my orginal copy, which Bill will bring to work to give to his co-worker this afternoon.  I found a few more cookbooks that may or may not be worth keeping--I will see.  I was surprised to see a copy of The Town that Food Saved there--that went into my bag immediately as did a book on the history of food.  I was about to put The Creators back on the table when I figured I might as well toss it into the bag--it's a look at how very creative people throughout history have worked and how they and their work have shaped culture.  Bill found several nice photography books and a bunch of Lenswork journals.  That was a great find!  By the time we were done with our three tables, we were both hot, Bill was getting hungry, and it was pretty stuffy in the gym.  There were lots of people in there--we got there just before they opened the doors and there was a long line.  This is a good thing!  I was very happy to see all those people who love books and who want to support our wonderful library!  But it was time for us to go so we took our bag and came home without looking at most of what was there.  I have no doubt that I could have filled by bag to the bulging point had I looked around.  Since Heather is volunteering there later on the clean-up crew, I am sure she would have liked it if there were a few less books there!  But I have enough--we got some great books (I think I got more keepers this year than last) and I am happy. 

Even the cat is happy.  He has a thing about paper bags.  The last time we had one, Bill recycled it on him, so this time I emptied it and brought it into the room he shares with Heather, where he was laying on the window sill looking for a breeze.  I tossed the open bag onto the floor and he was out of the window before the bag hit the floor.  He crawled into the bag and has been there since--he has napped and bathed inside the bag.  There is something for everyone at the library book sale!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Taking a Walk--or Two

One of Bill's goals was to start walking to work and back once the ice was gone.  It's about 2 1/2 miles each way.  Yesterday he did it!  Then he did it again today! He felt good and made good time.  He walked over the walking bridge to cross the river on the way in and came back over another bridge on Main/Maine St (it is Main St in Topsham and Maine St once you cross into Brunswick).  Yesterday, I met him on Maine St when he was on his way back because I had been visiting with a friend.  Today I decided to surprise him by showing up in time to eat supper with him, so off I went.  I left not really knowing what it was like outside except that I could see it was sunny and windy, although it had been cloudy and calm earlier.  I donned my trenchcoat (from which the lining had been removed a couple of weeks ago), had my headband in my pocket in case I needed to protect my ears from the wind, and a hat in my backpack in case it got cool enough for that on the way home.  By the time I reached the river, I was roasting, so I unbuttoned my coat. 

As soon as you get over the river, there is a fairly good-sized hill.  I made it about 2/3 of the way up before I had to take action. lest I burst into flames.  I was boiling!  I took off the trenchcoat and stuffed it in my backpack.  I was still hot the rest of the way in, but at least the hill was behind me.  When I got to Access Self-Storage, Bill had to buzz me in.  He was surprised and I was amazed at how freaking hot it was in there.  It was about to get hotter as the sun started setting after a couple of hours and beamed right in through the windows.  It was in the 80s in that office.  When we did the walk-through just before closing, it was so nice to wander around checking on the units in climate-controlled comfort!  When we left for the 2 1/2 mile walk home, the wind was blowing and it was cooler.  By the time we reached Maine St, I was unbuttoning my coat again.  Still, it was nice to take a good walk again.  We have not done as much of that as we used to and I realize that I have missed it.  I was thinking on the way in how grateful I am that Bill is doing so well that he can do this, that I live in a place where there are good sidewalks and places for people to walk, that the scenery is pleasant, and that I am the kind of person who wants to live at a slower pace.  I notice things and have time to think about things because I am not running from one thing to the next.  I sometimes get busy, of course.  Who doesn't?  I used to live that way all the time--especially in grad school.  At some point, though, I realized that I was done with all that.  I did not want to live that way anymore.  I wanted to slow down and drop out of much of the culture I was living in because I realized that my material wants and needs are few and the kind of life I did want to live required time more than anything else.  So I did not get a driver's license when we moved from Alaska to southern Oregon and I began living a different kind of life.  When I have too many really busy days in a row I get annoyed.  I have little tolerance for that kind of thing anymore.  I like the slow and steady pace of my life and what it allows me to do.  Walking is a part of that--it's my exercise, a political statement, as well as an ethical approach to my life.  Most people cannot understand why we walk or that we want to walk until I explain it to them.  Then they usually get it--even if they still think we're a little weird!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My Little Town (and the one next door!)

  Unbelievably, it is supposed to be in the 70s--near 80--for the next few days.  I remind you that it is March and this is Maine.  I know plenty of people who are thrilled to have this weather and plenty more who wish they could have it.  If I could send it to them so I do not have to experience it, I would do it.  Alas, I cannot, so I simply have to act like it is summer.  I am planning cold suppers for the next couple of days, I dug out my lace socks, and got out the summer clothes.
    This morning we left at about 9 to walk over to Topsham, the town next door where Bill works.  He wanted to walk partway to his place of employment so he could see how he felt and how much time it took.  We took the walking bridge over the Androscoggin River.  On one side is Brunswick and on the other is Topsham.  The bridge is about a 10 or 15 minute walk from our home.  We ended up walking about half the distance to work and then came home a different way, taking a different bridge a little further down the river.  Bill felt good and figures he can get to work in about an hour on foot.  We both thought that he would not be able to do it if he was still on the diltiazem, so we were reminded again about how glad we were that he is off it now.
   We stopped on the second bridge and watched and listened to the water of the river roaring underneath us and I thought about how peaceful I felt here.  I had noticed last week that I seem to be entering my usual spring depression early this year.  It usually arrives in April as it starts to feel like spring and I know that the hell of summer is almost upon me, but this year it had already started, so I decided I had better take some steps to mitigate the effects.  I cannot avoid summer, although I would if I could, and I am unlikely to ever truly like it, but I also can't wallow in my misery.  I started volunteering at the food bank last week and will be doing that twice a week from now on.  That will help, I think, because it feels like I am doing something useful there, and I will be observing and analyzing a topic that I find exceedingly interesting--keeps my mind busy :-)  What I learned today, though, is that I also need to make it a point to get outside and walk around my little town even if I don't have to be anywhere.  I have set up my life so that I can walk to the places I need to be--grocery store, library, etc.  That is good and it works well for me.  But I also need to walk to the river just to look at it or wander around to look at the scenery, even if I don't have to be anywhere.  This is harder for me because I tend to want to just sit still and not move in the summer, since moving means sweating.  But I lived for a long time before Brunswick in a place that depressed the hell out of me, in part because it seemed dead--lots of brown and dried up looking stuff.  I am lucky to live in this lovely little town and I need to make sure that I appreciate it.
   Bill and I took a ride to Westbrook yesterday afternoon, where we picked up a cheapo computer monitor that ad been advertised on Craigslist.  The screen on his laptop went black and he needed a monitor to still be able to use it.  We had to drive through Portland.  Both of us got tense and I got my usual bad vibe.  I don't like cities.  I never really have, but it seems like I have less tolerance for them now.  Portland, Maine is not a big city by any stretch of the imagination, but it gives me the same tensed up and unpleasant feeling that I always get.  Both of us try--pretty successfully--to avoid it.  When we first came to Maine, we thought we might live there.  I knew on the very first day that I did not want to do that and when we got to Brunsiwck a week later, I knew that this is where we needed to stay.  I am glad we ended up here.  It won't be forever--no place ever is with me.  But I am here now.  I do not have to love summer, but I can be grateful that I am here instead of where I used to be, that I am not in a city, and that it is green and pretty and not dead.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Too Low

We just got back from an appointment with the cardiologist.  It's been a month since the last one.  Bill's INR is getting regular, so he has been on the same coumadin regimen for a few weeks now.  Today his blood pressure was way too low, though, so doc took him off the diltiazem.  I am glad.  I was never comfortable with him taking that pill.  They started giving it to him on the Monday he was in the hospital.  All weekend, the hospitalist talked with us very clearly about his a-fib and blood pressure.  The former had probably been going on for years and was unlikely to change now, he said, and although his BP was high when he came in, that's normal during a stroke and that's how they want it.  He kept watching it all weekend and declared it "beautiful" on his last visit, which was on a Sunday.  The next day there was a new hospitalist and suddenly there was some issue with the a-fib, his heart rate, and the blood pressure.  The cardiologist was called in.  The first one was OK, but I didn't care for him much in terms of his ability to be clear with his answers and recommendations.  He is the one who decided to start Bill on the diltiazem.  He had a dose in the evening and then another one in the middle of the night.  An hour after the second one, he felt funny.  He mentioned this to the nurse, who didn't seem concerned.  Bill saw the current cardiologist on his last day in the hospital and he agreed with his colleague about the medication, but this guy was so much better about explaining and answering questions clearly that we stayed with him for the follow-up care. 
    So Bill had been taking his diltiazem in the morning and almost every day he had the same funny feeling a couple of hours afterward.  He says he finds it difficult to explain, but it is unpleasant.  We tried making sure he takes it after he eats and that hasn't really worked.  Because of the way it all played out, I was apprehensive about this pill from the start.  I understand what it is for, but no one really could explain to me why they thought it was necessary for him to take it when the first doctor did not feel he needed it.  So today, the BP is too low and he is off the pill.  He does not have to go back to see the cardiologist for 3 months.
   Poor Bill--he was so tired as we were walking the 1.5 miles to the hospital.  He is tired a lot--not sleepy, but fatigued.  I told him it was probably a combination of things--he is still recovering from the stroke, even though it was small; his heart rate is slower than it used to be and his blood pressure was lower, since two of the meds he was on lower the BP.  I said, "Your body probably has to get used to these changes."  Who knew that his BP was far too low?  No wonder he was exhausted!  We stopped a couple of times on the way home and now we can wait for the drug to leave his system and see if he is less fatigued as a result.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Left Neglect

The last book to leap from the "staff picks" shelf at the library and into my hands was Left Neglected by Lisa Genova.  It is a novel,but the author has a PhD in neuroscience, so I figured the descriptions of the condition would be pretty accurate.  Yes, that is an actual medical condition--Left Neglect.  I had never really heard of this--at least in a way that stuck with me--until the lunatic neurologist at the hospital described someone who had the condition.  So in the book the main character is an overscheduled overachiever who went to Harvard Business School, got a job with some consulting firm, got married, had three kids, and then tried to keep all her balls in the air.  Needless to say, things did not go well.  One day, while she was feeling pretty happy because her husband was taking the kids to school and she figured she'd be able to get to work early, she decided to rummage in her voluminous bag for her phone on the highway, driving 70 mph in the rain.  Well, you know what happened next--car crash, traumatic brain injury, left neglect.  In terms of plot, the book was pretty predictable and I could see where it would end up well before the end.   Given Bill's recent experience, though, and my observations, I related to parts of it in a new way--particularly the descriptions of the occupational and physical therapy--the scanning and word search puzzles were a feature of his recovery, too.  What I found really fascinating, though, was the fact of this left neglect issue.  When someone suffers from this condition, the brain literally does not register "left" or anything that exists on the left as a concept.  In the book, it was not that her left side was numb or that she could not see properly.  It was that her brain did not realize that "left" existed, so for her, it didn't!  She did not know there was a spoon on her tray to eat her soup, for example, because it was on the left.  She could not find her left arm or leg, even though she knew she must have them.  She tried to read to her daughter and it was a jumble because she was not seeing words on the left side of the page.  She could not even turn her head to the left because when one of the medical people asked her to do so, she would say, "What is left?"  She could not walk on her own because she never knew where her left leg was.  Eventually and with training, she was able to gain more functioning through various exercises that helped her brain to consciously remember to "scan left." 

At one point, the author has this character thinking about her injury and responding, "Wow."  That is how I felt reading this.  The people who deal with this condition live in a completely different reality that their brain has created.  According to the author, not much is known about what causes left neglect and how to "fix" it, other than to retrain the brain.  I was left again marveling at the human brain, how it has evolved, and what it--and by extension, we--are capable of doing. 

So while the story was fairly predictable in some ways, it was a book worth reading simply for the description of what life is like for someone who has this condition.  It was also another reminder about how we often go along in an unconscious fog through life and sometimes it takes a major unexpected life event to make us wake up and take stock.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Joy of the Unexpected

Our local library has a shelf for "staff picks."  These are books that are not brand new (these are shelved in a different place, divided into sections for fiction, large print, and non-fiction), but are usually not really old either.  Last week Bill and I went to the library and he headed up to the fireplace room to read some magazines and newspapers.  I dropped off some book donations and placed some magazines in the exchange rack, then wandered over to the "staff picks" shelf, where I suddenly found that a few books were leaping off the shelf and into my hands.  This always happens.  I am never sure how exactly, because I seem to go into some kind of wonderful trance as soon as I enter a library.  This time, I ended up with a few books I had never even heard of--one was about this guy who was miserable and decided to write 365 thank -you notes in a year.  It was pretty good--a memoir organized around his growing realization that maybe if he did not always look for the black cloud behind the silver lining, he could be a happier person and in the process enrich the lives of others as well.  Bill is reading it now.  He tends to be someone who is always looking for--and finding--the black cloud.  I am a silver lining kind of gal, so I suppose we balance each other out.

Yesterday I read the Penelope Lively book that also came home with me.  I have read some of her fiction in the past and enjoyed it, but this was a work of non-fiction.  She was writing about large social issues of the 20th century in Britain and Europe--class structure, WW II, gender issues, rural/urban divide, changes in Russia, etc--but she did it using her grandmother's large country home and the items that were in it as jumping off points.  So in a chapter about a sampler that her grandmother had made, she talked about her grandmother's amazing needlework skills, but also about children who had been evacuated from more urban areas to the rural ones during World War II (the sampler contained images of these children).  A chapter about utensils contained a bit about her family history as purveyors of a certain brand of silver cleaner and other househiold cleaning products, but also a discussion about how households have changed and how her own daughters and granddaughters had no idea what some of the silver utemsils were supposed to be used for. 

I found it a fascinating book.  This is probably not surprising, since it included most of the topics I am interested in--social institutions, class, gender, religion, women's domestic labor, and life stories.  The book is called A House Unlocked and I had never heard of it until it jumped from the "staff picks" shelf into my hands at the library last week.  I am glad it found me!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


We said good-bye to the occupational therapist on Monday.  We said good-bye to the speech therapist today.  Bill is done with both, so other than his blood tests that will provide the INR number that the doctor needs to monitor his coumadin dosage, he is done as an outpatient.  I have to say that although I had gotten used to sitting there in the waiting area with my yarn as he went to these various appointments, I think I will not miss them too much! 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Another Couple of Steps in the Right Direction

Bill went back to work this morning. After the occupational therapist told him on Monday that she thought he was OK to drive, we went for a test run yesterday to the library, where I ended up with 6 of my 8 hold requests being in--of course they all come in at once (I am not complaining!!!)!  He felt fine driving, so this morning it was back into the routine as he went off to work.  He left work an hour early to go see the speech therapist and I met him there.  We had been told that she saw no reason to see him as an outpatient, but then he got a call yesterday saying there was an order for an appointment there, so since he had to see the physical therapist this afternoon anyway, he decided to do the speech thing just before that.  I spoke to her after the appointment and she was quite enthusiastic in saying that he was doing great and she would only see him once or twice more.  I had been wondering what she would do because there has been a huge improvement since she last saw him over two weeks ago.

After the speech therapist he went to physical therapy where they did some evaluation.  He scored 56 out of a possible 56 and the therapist said, "I really don't think there is anything I can do for you."  She said that if he wanted to come in, he could, but she thought he did not need to have any more appointments.  He cancelled the appointments that had been made for him for the next month.  So he is done with physical therapy even before it started--this was his first appointment.  He has another one or two with the occupational therapist and the same with the speech therapist.  Hopefully they will get his coumadin dose regulated over the next few weeks and we will not be going there as much.  Not that the people are not wonderful.  They are so nice and I found myself sitting there in the waiting area tatting and smiling.  I caught myself smiling and thought how odd it was that I should feel so comfortable in a hospital.  I have to say that they do a remarkable job there.

So he has had a long day--he left for work before 8 this morning and we got home at 3:15.  He has not taken a nap and he is doing well--his stamina is improving a little each day.  Here's to normal life!!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Almost Usual!

Today we went back to the hospital so Bill could have his blood test and see the occupational therapist.  I walked both ways, he took the bus in and walked home.  His stamina was much better today.  The OT said she thinks she will probably only see him once more.  She came out to talk to me as I was sitting there tatting and waiting--she wanted to ask me how I thought he was doing.  She said she thought he was doing really well and I said I agreed with that.  She seemed particularly impressed with the progress in his hand.  She asked me if I thought things were getting back to normal and I had to say that I did think that.  He goes back to work Wednesday.

We had a lovely quiet weekend and went nowhere.  I am by nature a homebody.  I can spend days happily doing things at home.  It was nice to do that again.  I did not take off my mohair slippers and alpaca socks :-)
I also watched all 6 hours worth of lectures I had from the library called Understanding the Brain.  It is one of those "Great Courses" DVD sets--I used to get ads for them in the mail all the time.  It was the first set of 3 and I put set 2 on hold this morning.  I started watching on Saturday night and I was just fascinated, so watched 3 hours then and 3 hours last night.  The prof was from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, so I had my doubts about how useful it would be for someone with very little science background--I am not a hard scientist at all--give me social science any day--and the extent of my brain background is my study of human evolution, since pysical anthropology is a subfield I had to have some background in to get my degrees.  I needn't have worried--she did a great job of explaining things clearly.  I learned quite a bit.  Somewhere in set two is a lecture about the brain and language, which I am also quite looking forward to, being so interested in sociolinguistics and communication.  Of course, since I am me, I had to look up "Great Courses" in the keyword section of the catalog search on the library website.  I resisted the urge to request several of them, altough I probably will sometime in the future.  But I could not resist a couple of them, so besides the brain one, I will soon be getting one on the archaeology of prehistorical spirituality/religion and one on Emerson, Thoreau, and the Transcendentalists.  These are subjects I know something about, but I think they will still be interesting and contain information and ideas that are new to me.

So we are walking back toward normal.  I think that the almost daily walks we have been taking have helped Bill's progress along and certainly he feels better when he gets out to walk.  He left the hospital 2 weeks ago tomorrow--feels like a lifetime ago that all this started!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Today, the Cardiologist

So today we went back to the hospital for a blood test and a visit with the cardiologist.  Happily, the cardiologist he saw in the hospital was on vacation, so he saw the other guy today.  This guy is better--he answers questions clearly, patiently, and adequately.  When he told Bill to make another appointment for a month from now, he said it could be with him or the other guy.  Bill chose him.  I'm glad. 

Things seem to be going well.  The lab is amazing.  We took the bus there and Bill went off for the blood test.  he was done by 1:15.  When we got to Dr Lawrence's office at 2, Nurse Joan already had the results.  Bill's INR was high this time--4.  Needs to be between 2 and 3, so doc wanted him to take half a dose of coumadin today, a full dose tomorrow, and to alternate like that until he says otherwise.  Bill will go for another blood test on Monday and then the office will call and let him know how to proceed with the coumadin and when the next blood test should be--we've been consistently told that things will be sort of irregular like this at first.  He has to go in for another occupational therapy appointment on Monday anyway.

Bill had another EKG because his heartbeat was still irregular.  We were told at the beginning of this process that it is likely to remain that way, since it has probably been like that for years, so is unlikely to reverse itself now.  We were also told that people live without problems with this condition.  Since his heart rate and blood pressure were good, we were happy.  So we had another good report from the docs.  Yay!

We walked home again today and Bill felt much less tired than he did yesterday.  We actually walked farther than we did yesterday because we had to stop at the pharmacy to get a pill cutter. 

Tomorrow, we do not have to go anywhere.  Thank goodness!!!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Making Progress and Human Brains

This morning Bill had an appointment with the occupational therapist.  He got a ride from our wonderful neighbor and I left early on foot to run some errands.  I stopped at the library, where I returned books and a DVD about the human brain and I picked up a book that Bill had on hold and another DVD about the brain.  I raced out of there and decided that since I was going right by the grocery store, I might as well stop there and grab some whole wheat pasta to have with supper--and I grabbed some Parmesan and Romano cheese and a can of tomato paste as well.  Paid for my food and stuffed it into my backpack.  I zipped outside and started walking across the parking lot when I spotted a lonely $5 bill folded up on the asphalt.  After putting that in my pocket, I headed to Maine St and started my power walk to the hospital.  There were a few icy patches on the sidewalk that I had to skirt, but I made good time and got there a couple of minutes before Bill.  I sat, drank coffee, and read while he filled out paperwork and had his appointment.

After that we went to the office of the doctor that we thought was going to be his primary care physician.  This guy was suggested to us by the two hospitalists and one of them even talked to him to set it up.  In his discharge paperwork, this was listed along with the guy's phone number.  Since we were there, we decided that we would just speak to someone in person rather than play phone tag with yet another office.  The woman there said that this guy could not be Bill's doctor because he'd reached his quota of MaineCare patients.  When I explained that the doc had already been consulted about this and had agreed, she said, "Doctors never talk about insurance." and she told us we should go upstairs to some other office.  I told her that we needed someone to take his lab results and monitor his coumadin dosage and asked if they do that.  She said they do.  It was lunch time and we decided that it would be pointless to try and make any headway today, so we left it for tomorrow, since we'll be back there for another blood test and a meeting with the cardiologist.  We ate the lunches we'd brought with us and headed home.  It was a one and a half mile walk and Bill did get tired, coming as it did right after the occupational therapy stuff, but he made it. 

I didn't get the details of how the appointment went and Bill is napping as I type, so I am sure I'll get filled in later.  But she did say that he's improved over last week and that she does not think he will need to see her many more times.  She told him to do word search puzzles (helps with scanning) and gave him some balls to move around in his hand (strength and coordination, I guess).  She had him lay on the floor and asked if he could get up.  He laughed and told her that we sleep in a futon on the floor, so he's had practice getting up!  It sounds like things went well.

We watched the DVD about the brain last night and it was fascinating.  Some of the stuff I already knew and some I did not.  One of the things I got excited about was when the brain scientist started talking about the brain and culture.  He and his colleagues have come to many of the same conclusions I have about certain things from a purely physical scientific standpoint.  I always think that the more people can support an argument from as many different angles as possible, the better, so I was thrilled that the brain scientist got to the same place as I did through sociocultural anthropology.  I cannot tell you how many times I have gotten blank looks and silence when I suggest to people that a certain viewpoint or aspect of their worldview isn't actually inherently "real" in any concrete sense--it's the story they are telling themselves about what is happening.  They can tell a different story.  We can't experience anything without interpreting it and to do that, we tell a story.  If enough people tell the same story, it's culture, and it seems real enough--and in a sense it is--but when enough people start to tell a different story, culture changes.  Clearly, the human brain has evolved to tell stories in groups, so we need each other, and one thing the brain scientist talked about was finding ways to have people get a sense of that group cohesion without doing the whole "othering" thing, which leads to discrimination and war.  I was also pretty excited to hear him talk about certain social institutions as essentially brainwashing people--really that is what enculturation is--because that's how I see it, too.  We're all brainwashed to a certain degree.  Anyway, what he was essentially saying was that in the great nature vs nurture debate, you need to study both, because you can't understand how the brain works without knowing how it functions as it's being socialized.  It was a good overview kind of DVD and I liked it a lot.  The next one I have is a series of 36 lectures put out by some school of medicine somewhere, so I will see how that goes.  I have the first 12 lectures and there is a second and a third set, but I will watch part of this one before requesting the next one.  Each set is 6 hours and I only get them for a week, since they are DVDs from a different library.  I don't want to have too much at once!

UPDATE:  Bill just got off the phone with the woman we spoke to earlier from Dr Boyd's office.  He was the one who was supposed to be Bill's primary care physician until we were told he had reached his MaineCare quota.  Turns out that when she looked at stuff on her other desk, she found a list of people the doc was expecting to hear from and Bill's name was on the list.  So she apologized, took his info and made an appointment for him.  Now that we don't have to go in search of these other people tomorrow, that's one less thing we have to do.  Yay!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Day 10 Post-Stroke

Here we are 10 days later.  Bill has been home from the hospital for 5 days.  We continue to be grateful that things were not more serious.  Things steadily improve each day.  Bill gets tired easily and when that happens, he has a moment where it seems like it is hard for him to get the words out--not that they aren't understandable and not that he cannot find the words, just that the act of speech seems tiring.  He then rests for a few minutes and is fine.  We have been going out for walks each day.  The library is a great destination because if he gets tired by the time we get there, we can go in and sit.  Bill reads a newspaper and I look at a magazine.  The other day I left him there and went grocery shopping.  I shoved about 25 pounds of food in my large backpack, went back to the library to tell him I was done, and off we went home.  Happily, the library and post office are right across the street from one another and the grocery store is a block away.  All of these things are close to home.  On Friday morning, Heather and I set out on foot with the dirty laundry--once again I had my large backpack stuffed and Heather had her things in a tote bag.  We put them in the washing machine and I crocheted for the half hour it took for the wash to be completed.  Then wet clothes got stuffed back into the backpack and hauled home to be hung on our drying rack.  I thought I was missing an alpaca sock, but discovered that it had never made it to the laundromat at all--it fell under the chair as I was moving the dirty clothes from the laundry back to the backpack.  I will either handwash it or put it in the next load. 

One of the interesting things about this whole experience now is that it requires both Bill and I to work on things that are hard for us.  For him, learning when to stop and rest is important.  He has a tendency to just keep going, even when he is tired.  He can't do that now.  I tend to want to jump in and fix things for people and I have to step back from that impulse now.  Bill does not need me to do everything for him--he needs to do it himself.  If I do everything it will actually hinder his progress.  So I have to learn to stand back and let him proceed.  Once in a while, things get annoying or too many things happen at once and he gets tired.  So I am getting practice with observing, understanding when I do need to help, and only then offering assistance. 
We each have an opportunity to work on improving skills!

Both of us are so grateful for the support we have received from people.  Our neighbor has been great--giving rides to and from the hopsital and offering other assistance.  A friend and her husband brought over supper the first day he was home.  People have gathered information, shared expertise, and offered words of encouragement and support.  It has all been so helpful and appreciated! 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

You Never Know

On Friday, Bill came home from work in the midst of a stroke.  I called 911, we hopped in the ambulance and went to the hospital.  He was admitted, spent a night in ICU for observation, 3 nights in a regular room, and came home yesterday.  His stroke was small and the effects relatively minimal.  Nonetheless, he will now be on medication for the rest of his life--blood thinners and a heart medicine that treats his atrial fibrillation.  Not the way we'd planned to spend the weekend, but since things could have been astonishingly worse, we choose to be grateful that things are as mild as they are.

As we began this journey into the medical system, I sort of shut out all extraneous stuff and put all my attention on understanding what was happening, listening and asking questions of medical personnel, and trying to maintain my composure so I could make good decisions.  Once it was clear that this was not a life threatening event, the focus changed to more information gathering so that we would know what to do as we proceeded.

Now that he is home and the crisis is past, I have started to analyze more.  This is typically me and I felt that I had entered a new phase of this experience the other day in the hospital when I began doing an analysis of the communication that was going on from the perspective of gender.  For me, that is a normal thing to do.  In more general terms, though, I am thinking about people who find themselves in the hospital and may not have someone who can be there all the time with them when they talk to all of the medical personnel who come in and out of their room.  Monday was a particularly tiring day.  There was the usual stuff that the nurses and CNAs did every day.  Then the hospitalist came in--a different one because it was a new week.  He was interpreting things differently than the previous one, so the information he was giving us was different.  Then there was the occupational therapist, someone from patient services, a different physical therapist, and a speech therapist.  Later in the day, a neurologist and a cardiologist came in separately and then together.  These people were not finished until after 6 p.m.  Bill had been awakened at 5:30 a.m. for a blood test.  That is a long day for anyone, let alone someone who is sick in some way.  Both of us are smart, well-educated people (and several of these medical people asked about education level).  But one of us had had a brain trauma and was exhausted.  If there had been no one else there, how on earth would he have been able to understand what they were telling him?  How could he evaluate it?  I realized at some point that I was witnessing the intangible benefits of my education and life history.  I have always had really excellent verbal/reading skills and that helped me a great deal in terms of understanding what was being said and interpreting it.  I have taught many different kinds of students and interviewed many different kinds of people, so I know how to keep asking the same question in a different way if I have to until I get the information I need--and to ask someone else, if necessary. My anthropological research has sharpened my natural skills of observation and analysis and my ability to engage in cross cultural communication (and this was a kind of cross-cultural communication).  Because I have always been interested in social institutions, I knew how to quickly and pretty unconsciously evaluate the system that is in place and the information that was coming from the institution.  I have a good memory, so I could retain most of the important information that I was digesting.  In other words, a great many things came together to allow me to effectively understand what was being said, when people were contradicting each other and themselves, and to generally get a clear picture of what was going on.  But what about people who have a different skill set, or not as much education, or no one there to take over when they get tired?  It must be incredibly difficult.  I cannot imagine being ill and trying to make sense of everything that is swirling around you.  I was noticing an incredible amount of repitition, both in terms of the same person saying the same thing and different people saying the same thing.  I guess part of that is so that the patient will hear it many times at many different times of the day and it will be more likely to stick! 

It's funny, this life thing.  You never know what's going to happen.  You never know what skills you have that will come in handy in a completely unexpected way.  You never know how your strengths will rise up and maintain you in a crisis.  You never know what's gonna come in handy.  You just never know.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Random Thursday Thoughts

Funny how the same object can evoke different responses in 2 people.  This morning Bill and I went to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art--about a 10-minute walk from our home--to see an exhibit of Todd Webb photographs.  Bill loves his work, which spans a good part of the last century.  I know nothing about photography as a discipline or an art form, so can't really say much about the details, except that the work I saw today was very urban.  To me it was also very depressing.  Bill loved it.  I find urban environments very stressful and depressing.  Bill, with his photographer's eye, sees something worth documenting even in crumbling old buildings.  I just get sad.  One photo that he particularly liked was a panoramic view of a block in New York City.  He was looking at the people and buildings with fascination and interest and I was thinking how awful it would be to have to live there.  Other people might turn it around and say that it was awful that I have to live in a place like this.  As an anthropologist, I am glad that we all are different and bring different worldviews to the table.  As a person, I will take small urban areas in small doses and mostly avoid the larger ones.

This afternoon a friend emailed me to say that she had been going through all of the photos in Bill's "furry friends" gallery at and this got me thinking about how much different the process of photography is today than it was back in Todd Webb's day and how much easier it is to share your work among more people.  She asked me about a particular photo, so I went through the gallery myself to look at it and I found myself laughing and almost crying as I looked at the sweet faces of the animals that I shared part of my life with and who I still miss a great deal.

I started a book on Zoroastrianism in which the author was trying to cover every possible problem with definitions and power structures and she ended up qualifying things so much that she said nothing--at least in the 20 pages I got through before I put it in the "return to library" pile.  It is very good academic writing of a sort that I am quite familiar with and have done myself.  Reading this made me first wonder how I ever had the patience for it, and second made me very happy that I am no longer engaged in such things!

Heather gave me an "Insight from the Dalai Lama" calendar.  Yesterday's page said, " Buddha's teaching is that you are your own master; everything depends on yourself."  Yet another reason why I find such resonance and common sense in basic Buddhist psychology and philosophy!

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Beauty of Bach

It is not yet noon and I am prepared to declare the day weird.  First of all, it is brilliantly sunny outside and I always find that a very agitating start to the day.  Then there were several petty and minor annoyances that were easily dealt with along with the usual morning routine.  There was nothing large and I am reminding myself that I am lucky to have only minor annoyances rather than major crises.  Days like this make me realize anew that I am not a morning person.  It took me a couple of hours to do what I had to do but by the time I was done I was feeling agitated.  I much prefer to ease into my days quietly.  So while I had some plans for the morning, I scrapped them, wisely accepting that I would just get even more frustrated if I did things that required attention--my mind was just too scattered.  I was pondering what I should do instead when it dawned on me!  Put on some Bach!  So I did.  Then I picked up the current mindless knitting project and knit a couple of long rows.  I could feel my mind quiet as the agitation departed and my body calmed.  It's like magic!  Mind you, I really know nothing about classical music in general and Bach in particular, except that I know what I like--and I particularly like Bach.  There is just something about his music that creates an atmosphere of peace for me.  In the past when I would feel creatively blocked or generally agitated I would lay on my bed, close my eyes, and listen to Bach.  It put me in a place that was not conscious and not unconscious--it was somewhere in between.  I would come out of this state to find myself renewed and refreshed with ideas flowing freely.  So here's to Bach and mindless knitting and here's to a calmer afternoon!

Monday, January 9, 2012


This morning i read an article about a group of women who gathered in a Derry, NH ( a town I was overjoyed to leave in 1987) home to eat doughnuts, drink coffee and wine, and discuss tomorrow's primary.  Once again I was struck by the mental gymnastics people apparently engage in to rationalize their feelings.  One woman said that she was against "Obamacare" because we have to make a choice about whether we will be "self-sufficient" (good luck with that little fantasy) or one of those "European-style entitlement societies" that are going broke.  Um, what?  Presumably, if she is one of these people who are terrified by "Obamacare" she is also concerned with the deficit.  That's DEFICIT.  It is large.  We hear over and over that the DEFICIT is dangerous.  And if a person, household, business, country is running a DEFICIT, then they ARE broke.  We are a broke country already and I hardly think we can be considered an "entitlement society."  I don't care one way or the other what this woman thinks about entitlements and I am not suggesting that her view is not valid.  But why does she feel she has to give a reason for her feelings--she might do better to just admit that she feels this way and doesn't know why, because her argument certainly doesn't make any sense.  It reminds me of the reaction I get from people about the fact that we want to move to Ireland.  Most of them say something along the lines of, "Why do you want to move there?  The economy is bad."  to which my standard reply is, "As opposed to here where things are just so great?"  Then I get the sheepish smile and the admission that yes, things are tough all over.

People will believe what they believe and they will make choices based on those beliefs, many of which are not easily rationalizable.  We all do that.  So why not just accept that and stop trying to give reasons for everything.  If this woman doesn't like the sitting president, it's OK to just say that instead of trying to do mental backflips in order to appear sensible and thoughtful--because if that was her intent, it was a dismal failure.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Kinda Sorta Winterish

Today we have something like winter happening.  It is snowing and in the mid-20s.  Tomorrow it is supposed to be sunny and in the mid 40s, but for today, I will take this winter-like stuff.  The heat actually came on in the daylight, which it has only done once or twice since we finally turned it on 3 weeks ago--usually it just comes on once or twice at night.  I have some split pea soup in my 7 quart Crock Pot, lots of stuff to listen to on BBC, and a sock cuff to knit.  I have some dark chocolate truffle coffee left to drink and plenty of tea to brew once that is gone.  In addition to the jeans and sweater, I have on a mohair lace shawl, a pair of alpaca socks and a pair of wool/mohair slippers over them.  I am prepared.  I am content. And now I am off to enjoy this little taste of winter--the way things are going, it may be the only taste I get!!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What's Business Got to Do with It?

I had had people tell me, and I have read other people saying, that they might vote for a particular candidate for president because he has "business experience."  I never fail to be puzzled by this.  What does "business experience" have to do with anything?  The roles and goals of business and government are in no way the same.  I mean, I get the fact that people are concerned about the economy, but to then leap wildly to the conclusion that because business and government both have something to do with the economy, someone who has experience in one will be able to be successful at the other seems kind of silly.  There may be good, intelligent, serious reasons to vote for a particular candidate, but "business experience" really isn't one of them.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Overwhelmed with Abundance

I am a huge fan of BBC radio--especially Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra.  I often marvel at the fact that in the UK people can simply turn on their radios and find amazing dramas and intelligent discussions about a wide range of interesting and important topics.  It would appear that, in spite of some of the rather juvenile comedy, it is assumed that people there actually think and consider.  The contrast with the garbage that we get in this country is quite stark. 

People often ask me why I do not have a TV and wonder how I fill my time.  I want to ask them why they DO have a TV and whether that is how they fill their time.  Then I want to tell them that I have made the choice not to pay people to fill my enviornment with toxic crap, because that is exactly what people do each time they pay their cable bill.  I recently had the experience of visiting someone for a week and being exposed to a fair amount of TV.  When I got back to Maine I felt like I had to detox.  It strikes me that as time goes on, our environments just get more and more toxic, whether we are talking about the physical world, like air and water, or our cultural world, like TV and movies.  Is there quality content on TV?  I am sure there must be.  But it is not the norm.  I cannot watch TV or usually even turn on the radio here without feeling like my intelligence is being insulted and that I am being taken for a fool.  I just don't bother.  There is plenty of intelligent, thought-provoking, entertaining, and relevant content that I can have by downloading the podcasts that I choose (I have over 420 of them just waiting to be listened to on my computer, my nook, and my mp3 player!) and listening to programs on places like the BBC website, where they leave shows up for a week after airing.  Now my only problem is trying to find time to listen to all I want to hear before it gets taken down.  The podcasts will keep and I am so happy that BBC is making more and more of its shows available in that format.  But this week the Radio 4 Extra website is filled with an overabundance of wonderful listening and I have no idea how I will fit it all in.  I'll just have to give it my best shot!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Where Has Winter Gone?

It is January in Maine. It is supposed to be cold--or at least cold-ish. Today it was in the mid-40s. We did not turn on the heat until the week before Christmas and we only did it then because we were supposed to have single digit temperatures one night and we did not want to risk plumbing damage. We have a Monitor stove that runs on propane that we keep set at 54 with the economy switch on. This means that when it comes on, it will run at a steady pace until it reaches 66 degrees in here and then it turns itself off. This is better than having it run on the regular setting where it only goes to 4 degrees above where you set it--then it keeps coming on and going off. The way this all works we end up with the indoor temperature in the 56-62 degree range most of the time. This is good for us as any warmer makes us feel stuffy and uncomfortable. We also open the blinds on our living room window and the 2 in the bedroom which lets the sun stream in and heats the place pretty well. The living room window does not fit the frame properly and there was cold air coming in around that, so I packed a bunch of weatherstripping all around. The end result of all of this is that the heat rarely comes on during the day at all. It has not been on today since before I got up at 7:30ish. I do not know whether it came on last night. it is currently 62 degrees in here with the sun setting. It feels slightly stuffy.

We are supposed to get cooler temperatures in the week ahead and tomorrow night it is supposed to get down to around 0. The problem is that in between days of 20-something degrees, we will have days when it gets close to 40 again. I am not sure things will actually freeze and I really wish they would.

The week before Christmas, Bill and I were walking around doing errands. It was a warm day; I had a heavy backpack on; and I was sweating. We were coming up the hill just before home and I was breathing hard. I went about my day. I went to bed and felt like I had been hit by a truck--my whole body ached. I began shivering and my teeth were chattering. the next day I started coughing. I kept on coughing for a week and a half. After nights of being awake coughing and coughing and not only not sleeping myself, but preventing Bill from sleeping as well, I decided to just sleep in the chair sitting up. This was around the time that we turned the heat on and the dust and propane fumes made things worse, so when it came on, I put on a mask.

At the same time this started for me, Bill started itching. After some googling, it appears that exposure to mold is the likely culprit. I did not have allergy issues until I moved from Fairbanks to southern Oregon, but then I just became sensitive to more and more stuff. Now that winter has abandoned us and things are not freezing, there is more opportunity to breathe in the toxins. Yesterday morning it was sinuses and the whole body ache again. If things would only freeze, maybe there would be some relief before everything starts budding and blooming again. Sigh.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ordinary Days

About a month ago, I heard that a woman I knew in grad school had died at the age of 47. She had been dealing with metastatic breast cancer for most of the past decade. When she was diagnosed the first time, we were still in communication and I was aware that she had been treated and thought it was behind her. A few years later, she was diagnosed with the same thing again. By this time life had taken us in different directions, so while I knew somehow that she had a recurrence, I did not know that this time the whole thing was much worse and that the treatment would turn into one thing after another for years as the cancer spread. When I heard that she had died, I went to the blog she had been keeping and clicked randomly on some posts. It was strange reading it when I knew how it all turned out and that made some of the entries sad to read, because they sounded so hopeful. At the same time, I could see what a great help the blog was and will be for other people in similar situations and I was glad that such a valuable resource exists.

One post that particularly struck me was one dated about 6 weeks before her death, in which my former colleague announced that she had decided to no longer receive treatments. This was a reversal for her, it seemed, because she had been trying to stay alive as long as possible to be with her 11-year-old son, but she finally had started to accept that she was losing a good deal of her quality of life in exchange for a few more weeks of existence. She chose quality over quantity and said that while she felt "kinda sad," she also felt positive. And then she seemed to express some excitement at the prospect of cleaning up the clutter in her room and doing some work. It struck me that all this woman wanted was an ordinary day again. Here she was in the process of accepting her imminent death and the possibility of being strong enough and feeling well enough to clean her room and do some work was truly joyful to her. I have thought about this a lot since. I am just a homebody by nature, so I always am happiest puttering around at home, wherever that happens to be. When we were on our big trip a few years ago, our tent was home and that was moved every few days to a new patch of grass, but I still relished the days I could "stay home" at the campsite and read or stitch. Reading that blog post though, made me really stop to consider how we tend to take ordinary days at home for granted or we fill up our days so much that a kind of frantic activity becomes our definition of an "ordinary day." I kind of don't notice these quiet days until my life gets busy and they are taken away from me. Then when I have one, I notice and appreciate it. I try to set up my life so that I am not busy and always running around--been there, done that. What if I didn't have the choice, though? So now I try to appreciate my ordinary days doing ordinary things in a conscious way and to be grateful for each of them.

Deanna seemed to be at peace when she died and I am glad for that. I am also glad that she decided to start her blog, which will help so many people, whether they are ill or not.