Sunday grab-bag…

Lately I’m up by 6am to watch the gorgeous winter sunrise unfurl, don’t ask me why, it’s already worrisome enough… am I turning into a DAY person, ’cause this keeps happening! Any morning the temp is above bone-shattering, Kim makes his early-morning trek down Mass Street and back… observing… tracking the pulse of life in #lfk. Somebody waking up in a doorway might need a cup a’ coffee or a few bucks for breakfast. It was in the 50s in the afternoon, with sunshine, so he played PickleBall in Lyons Park, and when he got home he walked with me to the river and back, which was the fulfillment of a simple little longterm wish… he just wanted to go on walks with his girl, and she wanted to go. Life, I’m thankful you can still surprise us. Out there in the sunshine, hiking pole in hand, everything starts to seem possible.

If you’re a list-maker, I don’t even have to explain… sometime in the last three years I stopped making them, which would have been a harbinger of change had I been paying attention. As a perpetually-unreformed ball of anxiety with OCD, I don’t function without lists… a planner… a set of calendars. At some point in there, as the isolation weighed heavy, it all ceased to matter and the only thing I was keeping track of was doctor’s appointments, but those should be fewer and further between now, and my psyche is asking “What do we do next?” so yes, Virginia… life does go on.

If you’ve read this mundane stream of consciousness to here… X … you’re a real friend who knows sometimes I just need to let my mouth and brain run until they find a parallel track… and your long-suffering doesn’t go unnoticed. I saved stuff all week with you in mind, so here ya’ go…

Getting to be a bit much for the average bear…

On the flip-side, a far greater truth… and bless the memory of Thich Nhat Hanh.

On the weather front…

*****

A single sentence can be life-changing. When I encountered this one I stole it and practically ate it for lunch… it’s provided an ongoing epiphany, amen.

That’s gonna stick.

In related news…

*****

But plotting a break-out…

Some of you have been reading this mess for a long time now, so thank you for sticking around. I only wish I knew each of you as well as you’ve allowed yourselves to know me, and I welcome every comment. I’d love to talk with you…

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Success on a Monday…

Gotta love it when a plan comes together – it was over 50º and sunny before noon, so Rita and I walked the south side of the river from the boathouse parking lot to the bench at the other end and back, probably a half-mile total. It was amazing to be out in the air, which felt pretty crispy around the ears, striding out, hiking pole in hand and sister by my side. The city has a huge clean-up project underway next to the Kaw, clearing acres of dead trees and underbrush back away from the sidewalks, opening up small tributaries and other vistas we hadn’t known were there. Lots of tiny encampments have been dismantled and hauled away, but we could still spot a few tents and hooches through the leafless winter trees. “Sleeping rough” wouldn’t describe it, and I wish every human could count on warm shelter no matter what.

Along with welcome moments of consciousness-raising, today’s walk was a needed affirmation that all is well in the recovery process. The success of previous spinal procedures has hinged on my doing the work post-op to make it happen… somehow… without the actual source of the pain having been addressed… so I carried the guilt every time for the lack of positive returns. This time around, we were in the right place when the technology arrived, stellar young people REPAIRED the problem, I walked out of the hospital without nerve pain, and today’s effortless half-mile folded me up when I tried to tell Kim about it. Gratitude… so full of it these days.

It’s cool when your body agrees.

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A simple little story…

art: Autumn Skye Morrison

Sunny but cold. Today feels like one long tunnel. I tried all morning to write a letter, but it isn’t coming out right, so either it isn’t meant to be written, or I haven’t cracked the code of truth yet. For now, this is a better story that somehow speaks to what I was trying to write…

My dad has bees. Today I went to his house and he showed me all of the honey he had gotten from the hives. He took the lid off of a 5-gallon bucket full of honey and on top of the honey there were 3 little bees, struggling. They were covered in sticky honey and drowning. I asked him if we could help them and he said he was sure they wouldn’t survive. Casualties of honey collection I suppose.

I asked him again if we could at least get them out and kill them quickly; after all, he was the one who taught me to put a suffering animal (or bug) out of its misery. He finally conceded and scooped the bees out of the bucket. He put them in an empty Chobani yogurt container and put the plastic container outside.

Because he had disrupted the hive with the earlier honey collection, there were bees flying all over outside.

We put the 3 little bees in the container on a bench and left them to their fate. My dad called me out a little while later to show me what was happening. These three little bees were surrounded by all of their sisters (all of the bees are females) and they were cleaning the sticky nearly-dead bees, helping them to get all of the honey off of their bodies. We came back a short time later and there was only one little bee left in the container. She was still being tended to by her sisters.

When it was time for me to leave we checked one last time and all three of the bees had been cleaned off enough to fly away and the container was empty.

Those three little bees lived because they were surrounded by family and friends who would not give up on them, family and friends who refused to let them drown in their own stickiness and resolved to help until the last little bee could be set free.

Bee Sisters. Bee Peers. Bee Teammates.

We could all learn a thing or two from these bees.

Bee kind always.

~~author unknown

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Confronting reality on a weekend…

It’s a sunny Saturday morning, 27º and headed for the 40s this afternoon. Monday’s forecast high of 55º will be a bit of a heat wave, and if the wind stays down and the sun stays out, imma plan a river walk, brief though it might be. Meanwhile, I’m quickly forming an attachment to the treadmill upstairs and we put in a solid fifteen minutes together yesterday. Gonna go say hey again before KU-KState b-ball this afternoon since the game will have me glued to my chair for the duration.

Lately I’ve been taking weekends off and deliberately emptying my head of thoughts that clamor for expression… but there are fellow humans in every area of life who don’t have that option and might never at any point. Not to play favorites, but if nobody was working at the hospital, for instance, when our weekend emergencies happened, we’d know we were in a world of hurt. The hard truth is, we’re IN that world now, we just don’t have the knowing yet.

We’re in year three of a pandemic that didn’t have to be like this… a disaster that could have been stopped in its tracks in the same way ebola, smallpox, rabies, polio, and the flu were dealt with… and if our early-detection systems around the world hadn’t been dismantled by TFG… or if any real measures whatsoever had been undertaken after we knew what it was… we’d be in a far different place this morning. But since none of that happened, a world more soberingly real than anything we may have imagined is right on our doorstep.

The brave new world that’s headed our way will register on people’s consciousness dead last here in the heartland, but it’s already being felt in the cities. I know someone who at one point was managing three hospital units including her own, and helping another manager with three or four additional units. Another nurse spent some time in a small African country where people in the hospital were lying on the floor, some of them seizing, with people simply walking over them. She knows it’s only a matter of time until the U.S. looks that same way because, to quote yet another RN, “At some point all of these customer service surveys and trying to turn the healthcare experience into a five-star hotel or resort stay will be shown up for the farce that it actually is. You either are dying and get the emergent care that you need and somehow find a way to pay for it, or you die. No more of this ‘my food wasn’t tasty enough, my room wasn’t clean enough, my sheets weren’t soft enough, the nurse wasn’t pretty enough, the nurse didn’t speak to me subserviently enough… ‘”

There’s a level of incivility toward medical personnel from patients and family members that inevitably bleeds over into interactions among staff and departments to the point that structure disintegrates… chaos eventually reigns… and Americans, of all people, sooner rather than later, walk into New York-Presbyterian Hospital to find fellow humans writhing on the floor for lack of beds and/or personnel. It sounds like a made-for-TV movie, but if you’re connected to the healthcare world at all, you know this country is right on the edge.

COVID and its children have only multiplied and strengthened, regardless what anyone wants to believe. It isn’t slowing down, it isn’t confining itself to the old and infirm, its voracious appetite for living its best life has not diminished. The world’s efforts to be stupidly valiant in its presence are laughable and thoroughly tragic. In my own formative years, we stared polio down and turned it into history, but 65 years later Americans seem to be devolving, most definitely to our own detriment. The vaccine technology that once saved us has become our enemy and I wish I didn’t know that about my fellow man. We are, of all species, most to be pitied, for we so richly deserve our fate. Sometimes you get what you ask for. Probably one of Murphy’s laws…

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Totally random…

Happy 100th, Betty, and thank you.

Remember broomstick skirts? I do, and I was doing fairly okay with the aging process until my throat started looking like one… so now, like Nora Ephron, I feel bad about my neck. Filters (did you know they have cotton-candy hair?) may or may not have been employed in the making of this image, but if any were, they were clearly defenseless against the throat rebellion. Just a reminder of how real life can be…

Waiting for spring with a whole new intensity this year, which is misguided since we’re barely into winter for real. The thought of walking outdoors, on real surfaces, in fresh air and sunshine, is genuinely tantalizing at this point… but since it’s currently 12º out, headed for a blazing high of 19, I plan to make the acquaintance of the treadmill in the 5th-floor workout room in about 5… 4… 3… Time to grease the zircs, oil the hinges, and get this show on the road. Rita Jo’s out there every nice day, finding the cool walking trails, and I’m consumed with envy, so I have to get there… starting with a benign stroll on the flat sidewalk along the Kaw. FIRST NICE DAY!!

Still maintaining my extended fast from TV news, but I’m fully aware that the insanity continues unabated. It’s cause for both tears and laughter, so I look hard for the humor and kindred spirits.

*****

When it’s over, it’s over, but I keep a good thought.

On the subject of current events…

The weekend starts tomorrow, or if you live in #lfk, tonight. Absorb all the good from it…

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Dear Diary…

Tuesday, January 18, 2022 is a day for the record books, by which I mean mine personally. We saw my neurosurgeon today for my one-month follow-up and all is well. He removed all my staples and stitches, which alone makes for a comfier existence, said everything is on schedule, and told us that the surgery could not possibly have gone better. I was hoping for a spa soak, but that’s still another month out, so I’ll get over it and press onward. I’ll be walking, walking, walking until the 3-month mark when he’ll reassess and decide what to assign next. For now, I think he’s given me ten extra years, and I thanked him for paying the price to be where he is, doing what he does, because he’s changing lives.

Time has lost all meaning over the past two years, but especially in the sequence of events we just experienced. By all rights I should still be at least three weeks out, waiting for surgery, but since the KIMN8R (on a hint from Rita) asked that I be put on a wait-list I ended up having my first consult with Dr. Carlson six weeks sooner than my original appointment, and then a woman scheduled for my exact procedure cancelled, with surgical team in place, so I inherited her spot. Thus, surgery was already done and I was home from the hospital a week ahead of my originally-scheduled visit. Therefore… we missed the main onslaught of Omicron and made it back to the cave before the devil even knew we were out.

There are things in life that really are supposed to happen, and once they get rolling you could barely stop them if you tried. It feels like I closed my eyes on fifty years of pain, surrendered my body to science, and woke up in a world I’d almost forgotten. I dropped the opioids at the end of week one, parked the walker, and haven’t looked back… life is never over until it’s over and I’m ready for more of it. Only time will tell if the pain’s going to move up my spine to the other wonky disks, but for now the real problem’s been fixed, the nerve pain has disappeared, and I’m moving unless something stops me, which doesn’t seem quite real yet, although black & white does have a way of bringing things home…

TRIGGER WARNING: Bones and hardware

So that’s how things are looking at L5/S1 around these parts, folks, and we’re callin’ it progress. Hoping for an early spring…

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Weekend loading, please be patient…

Sunrise with Streetlight – Kim Smith 01/14/2022

We were graced with a brief band of fire this morning before the gray winter skies closed in and extinguished it from view. Tomorrow’s forecast says cold and snowy, so we appreciated the warm handshake from the sun, no matter how short-lived. Today it’s simply cold and gray, requiring a more creative approach to the hours. It’s good to be able to spend a few minutes in my desk chair again, because other than books and a couple of games, most of my creative impulses are poured into this big MOchine. Feeling better usually requires writing words, and that happens best right here.

Or I could borrow someone else’s, because…

On the uninspired days, it’s helpful to remember this rule.

Looking back over this week’s trove of saved things, one stands as more important to remember than the rest…

Anybody guilty? Raises hand… 🖐🏼

*****

Latte and macarons for the therapy…

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Forever…

Oh hi, just me here, thinking about stuff again. We emerged yesterday from ten days of frigid temps, snow, fog, and rain… by which I mean all of 2022 thus far… so today’s high near 60º will feel like a holiday. We may get to enjoy a couple days’ worth before the cold asserts itself again, and this reminder of spring is tantalizing. However… 

… BACK, that is.

A thought: I have three partial rolls of Forever stamps in a caddy on my desk. Considering the number of pieces of snail mail we send in a year’s time, that may be how long they last – forever. The post office will be a distant memory and someone will find these sticky tokens, and wonder… and if that turns out to be the most puzzling artifact in my house, I will have dodged a number of bullets.

If you’re looking for an exquisite read, I recommend The Air You Breathe by Frances de Pontes Peebles. There were passages that literally took my breath away, left me in tears, transported my winter carcass out of the cave. It’s a compelling, layered story beautifully told.

From the sublime to the ridiculous… I see this morning that “urine” is still trending on Twitter because all over America people who think they’re part of a master race are drinking their own pee. Horse meds with a piss chaser for “treating” COVID, as opposed to vaccines… anything to own the other half. This is actually where we find ourselves at the start of Pandemic, Year Three. I can step back, separate myself from all of it, and muse about the implications until ever-present reality steps in again and I want to circle the wagons for protection and support… and then I realize people I used to turn to aren’t there anymore and aren’t invested in what’s up. The shock of that knowledge has worn off, but the ache never leaves.

And then I come across other news and facts, and have to face it that the ridiculous is totally in vogue right now.

DISCLAIMER: The law has not yet been instituted, but it’s on the books.

Ready or not, sublime or ridiculous, we’re swimming in the waters of a new year, human-ing and hoping for the best. Each of us has challenges to meet, unique to us but universal to the race, and that’s where our hearts and minds will be. The year 2022 will inevitably be a stretch in ways we have yet to envision, so I hope we’ll all experience some “outside myself” moments, some chances to be there for someone else, to make those small differences that make ALL the difference. And if we find ourselves with softer hearts when (if) 2023 rolls around, we will have won something important.

*****

Old(er), not old. Age, like sex, happens 99% in the brain.

And that brings us full-circle back to forever, which we all wish belonged to us and maybe does, we’re just not sure how or where. Seems like an okay idea to live like it’s a fact… with everybody’s forever in mind.

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Annnd… we’re rolling…

Photo Credit: Kim Smith 01/05/2022

A few touchstones, a week into the crisp new year, beginning with a roadmap I’m still learning how to navigate…

Anne is a much-beloved kindred spirit.

*****

This has to be said and I hope you won’t have any trouble recognizing yourself in its joyous celebration of humanity…

*****

Some of us require extra grace, so thank you for giving it.

It doesn’t.

On the other hand, once we slide into life’s third trimester of experiencing it all for ourselves… we start knowing a couple of things and remembering what we may have forgotten. I love this photo montage for the way it ties my G’ma Wagner’s era to mine and keeps the love and humanity intact. Some things are universal forever.

And based upon zero evidence other than an odd quiet sense of hope this morning, I see this as a distinct possibility:

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What they wanted…

Artist Credit: Bozorgmehr Hosseinpour
"We wanted to help people
We were smart and driven
We loved science and physiology, humans and disease
So we made a commitment
We signed up
It was an honor

We read thousands of pages
Attended hundreds of lectures
Pulled all-nighters
Took more exams than we thought possible
Finals week felt insurmountable
But it didn’t break us
It made us stronger

We learned statistics and biochemistry
Immunology and pathophysiology
We mastered genetics, virology and pharmacology
We read scientific papers and learned how to dissect them
Papers, not videos
It was an honor

We came running when you needed us
Literally, running down the hallway
To the ICU, the trauma bay, labor and delivery
I need help, you said
We can help, we said
It was an honor

There were moments that we thought would break us
Moments that drove us to journaling, to therapy, to nightmares
Broken babies.
Paralyzed children.
Dead pregnant mothers with three kids at home.
The wail of a mother whose son just died.
We bent but we did not break
We returned because you needed us
And we could help
It was an honor

Then there was fear
Fear of walking into our place of work
Fear that we’d be killed by going to work
Fear that we’d kill a loved one because of our work
There were tears and sleepless nights and anti-anxiety medications
But you banged your pots and pans
You sent us pizzas and called us heroes
You needed us
We could help
So we wore our masks, and our gowns, and our gloves, and our goggles
We decontaminated ourselves before going home and isolated ourselves from our families
We almost broke
It was an honor

How quickly the joy turned to defeat
Elation to rage
You’ve learned to do your own research now
You know better than we do
Gaslighting is your language
Your selfishness is astounding
You don’t want our help when we ask you to stay healthy
Yet you arrive at our doors begging for help at the end

You stole our resources
You hobbled our ability to help those who did what they were supposed to do
You killed our patients by filling our beds and using up our ventilators
We can’t help any more
You broke us
There is no more honor”

- Anonymous

A poem written by a physician after reflecting on the veteran who died in Texas because of the ICU bed shortage. 
Artist credit:
Bozorgmehr Hosseinpour

*****NOT A DISCLAIMER: I read yesterday that people are simply done with COVID and all its iterations, finished, through, sick of hearing about it, and I know in my bones that's a fact. But it doesn't change the equal and opposite fact that COVID doesn't care, it just wants to eat, sleep, live, and reproduce, and will for as long as we allow it. Our refusal to deal with facts is bringing our amazing, incredible, unmatched, behemoth of a healthcare apparatus down on our heads and the implosion will be... simply beyond. We've been warned... and warned... and warned... and we do not care. Sars-cov-2 is now part of the warp and woof of human existence, and the cost will be incalculable. "The fall thereof was great... "

There's nothing you nor I can do about any of it now, unless you're unvaccinated. You have the power to do that much and it isn't too late yet. The variants are becoming increasingly uglier, but the vaccinated are staying out of hospitals when they do fall ill. However tired you are of knowing about it, the death toll goes on relentlessly. And the people who once had the tools, energy, and incentive to help are finding other ways to stay alive. May whatsoever gods there be have mercy on us.

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Forward in small steps…

My grandmother once gave me a tip:

In difficult times, move forward in small steps.

Do what you have to do, but little by little.

Don’t think about the future 

or what may happen tomorrow.

Wash the dishes.

Remove the dust.

Write a letter.

Make a soup.

You see?

Advance step by step.

Take a step and stop.

Rest a little.

Praise yourself.

Take another step.

And then another.

You won’t notice, but your steps will grow more and more.

And the time will come when you can think about the future without crying.

***

Author: Elena Mikhalkova 

Photo Artist: Rosanne Olson

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