I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Sunny skies and random acts

Bellingham Bay and boats
Yesterday morning, Melanie and I walked along Boulevard Park for our Saturday outing, and this lovely picture of sailboats anchored in Bellingham Bay caught my eye. The day was picture perfect, as you can see here, and we ended our five-mile walk with a trip to the Farmers' Market, where I figured I'd just take a few pictures of the produce. Instead, I decided to buy some homemade shortbread cookies, and we shared some as we went our separate ways. If I had it to do over again, I'd leave that purchase out, because I cannot resist those cookies and finished them over the course of the day. I'll pay for that indulgence on the scales.

An update on SG's progress: he's continuing to improve after the stroke three weeks ago, but he has a ways to go. Finally he's going outdoors for some walks, and he describes himself as feeling like Bambi, transported from a mountain meadow into the middle of New York traffic, where everything is loud and rushing by at breakneck speed. Each day he's a little better, though, and I see the progress in his continued improvement with joy and hope. He's a little bit like a baby bird that has just fledged, needing to find how to use its wings and trust them to fly. And I feel so impossibly proud of him as I stand by and watch.

Yesterday, as I sat outside our coffee shop enjoying our little spot in the shade, my friend John shared an article with me that I haven't been able to forget. He had actually sent it to me the night before, but I hadn't yet read it, so he suggested that I read it aloud right then, as he wanted to hear it again. It's rather long, but I was very moved by it and cannot stop thinking about the implications. It's written by an anthropologist who lives not far from me, over the Canadian border in Vancouver, BC. It's entitled "The Unraveling of America," and appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine. As an anthropologist who has studied many different cultures over the span of his career, he knows of what he writes.

He suggests that the Covid-19 pandemic will change the course of history and be one of those inflection points we all see in stories of past eras. He writes:
The COVID pandemic will be remembered as such a moment in history, a seminal event whose significance will unfold only in the wake of the crisis. It will mark this era much as the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the stock market crash of 1929, and the 1933 ascent of Adolf Hitler became fundamental benchmarks of the last century, all harbingers of greater and more consequential outcomes.
There is no way for us to know for sure how the pandemic will change the world, not from this vantage point anyway, but I believe that the young people of today will one day look back and see that this is when we began to come to the realization that we would never be able to "get back to normal." The social inequities I see everywhere around me are increasing, not decreasing. As I see more and more people in the streets without homes, and as they look out of their sleeping bags at a world that has left them behind, I wonder what separates me and my friend John from their fate. I am retired now, and I receive not only Social Security benefits from decades of working, but also annuities from a retirement plan I paid into for thirty years. It's the only thing that separates us. I no longer have to think about losing a job and having to try to find work where none exists.

I saw a young woman outside the grocery store yesterday, holding a sign clutched to her chest that said, simply, "NEED HELP." I talked with her for a few minutes, to find that she is living in a shelter, with little hope for the future, and she's trying to find a way to stay off the street. She's young and healthy enough to possibly not end up like so many of the older men I see walking with all their worldly belongings in a shopping cart. I know that when I was younger, there was not such a huge divide between those who have and those who have nothing. What has caused this inequity? And what can be done about it?

Sometimes I get very depressed about the state of the world, especially my country, but then I realize it does absolutely no good to wish things were different. Things will continue to evolve and change, and since I am old now, pushing the boundary of eighty, I know I won't be around to see the next phase of history. So what can I do, if anything, right now?
Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate. —Albert Schweitzer
Oh. Right. Find ways to spread a little kindness into the world. Well, I can do that, and I can find people all around me who will benefit from my efforts to be kind. Today, for starters, I'll buy coffee for a stranger when I head to my favorite shop. I'll take whatever occasions that present themselves to notice where a little kindness might make a difference. I'll keep myself open to opportunities to enjoy the little things in life that make me happy. We are all connected, and if I'm happy, that will help you be a little happier, too.

It feels like the right thing to do, in fact maybe the only thing I can accomplish today. I just received a text from Lily, my dear friend who has moved away from the apartment complex, that she will be there this morning. That's just wonderful, and it gives me the impetus to cut this post short and get ready to start the rest of my day. I feel energized, just thinking about the day ahead, and all that I might be able to do to spread around a bit of kindness.

My dear partner still sleeps next to me, more quietly these days as he continues to improve, my tea is gone, and the day beckons. I always want to say thank you to all of my dear virtual community, because you brighten every one of my days. So many of you feel like family because, well, you ARE. You bring a smile to my face just to think of your presence as I finish this post and get ready to launch it out into the world. Be well, dear friends, until we meet again next week.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Two weeks later

It's been two weeks since my hubby had his stroke, and what an amazing recovery I've been able to see him progress through. From being unable to talk at all, a very weak left side and unsteady gait, to what seems to be an almost complete recovery, all in two weeks. He's not really completely recovered, of course, but considering what might have been, it fills me with joy to be able to write this.

And there are many positive side effects to his stroke, believe it or not. The first and foremost is the obvious reminder of the fragility and brevity of our lives, and the admonition to make the most of each and every day, and to give thanks for each other. I have been reminded that my life would be very different without him, and without his ability to transcend this setback. Or is it even a setback?
What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise for which we are later, in the fullness of time and understanding, very grateful for! —Oscar Wilde
Sometimes we need something to give us a reason to get out of the rut of everyday life and clear out the cobwebs, so that we can accomplish whatever it is we want yet to achieve during our brief sojourn on this planet. Because of his stroke, I know that I am no longer living each day in complacency, thinking that I've got all the time in the world. Even though in this country we are still in the grip of the coronavirus, every day counts and needs to be spent in the best possible way. We won't travel this path again, and who knows what the future holds?

Yesterday I joined my friends Melanie and Dianne (and the very delightful dog Joe) for a lovely walk in Hovander Homestead Park in nearby Ferndale. From that link:
The park has been preserved to show the lives of 20th-century pioneers in the Northwest, as well as to preserve the history of the Hovander family. Hovander Homestead Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. 
I am amazed that I have only recently learned of this park, and the wonderful trails it provides for people and their dogs to enjoy. It is located on the Nooksack River and the old farmhouse and barn are also open (during non-pandemic times, at least) to the public for tours. We enjoyed a wonderful walk in the sunshine, with Joe bounding through the open spaces, some that allow for dogs to be off leash, and others that require them. 

There is also a demonstration garden that shows all the different plants that grow in the area, which includes a beautiful dahlia garden, where I took the picture at the top of this post. There is also a section that labels and identifies all the different plants that you might encounter in the nearby wilderness areas. We spent our morning enjoying being out and covering more than five miles in our wanderings. At one point, Joe and several other dogs took a dip in the Nooksack River at a boat launch. All the dogs were well behaved and looked like they were enjoying the day as much as we were.

I was gone from home for about four hours, and as usual when I come home these days, I worried a little about how SG was doing, but he's someone who likes to be independent and doesn't appreciate me being oversolicitous. And what did I find? He'd been busy all morning, taking out the trash, puttering around the kitchen, and getting in steps. He got more steps yesterday than I did, and I was outdoors walking! He was happy to see me, and I realized my fears were totally unfounded. He's going to be completely back to normal in another few weeks.

It will be a while before he attempts to drive, but he will be cautious and will do it safely, and in the meantime, I can continue to do any and all grocery shopping that we require. From where we were two weeks ago when this all happened, we have moved from me being the caregiver, to him back to taking care of me! As I write this, he's sleeping quietly next to me, and I'm sure that the clacking of the keys gives him a sense of normalcy, too. He's listened subliminally to that sound every Sunday morning now for more than a decade.

When we got together more than a quarter-century ago, when skydiving was the center of both of our lives, I never could have imagined who we would become in our later years. Although we still share stories with each other about those days, the people we have become in our late seventies is even more precious and meaningful to me than I would ever have thought possible. The scare of his stroke has reminded me once again how much I love and depend on him, and how much his sense of humor and way of living his life enriches my days and weeks and years. I am overflowing with gratitude for all my blessings, and I truly hope that we will have many more days and weeks and years together.

And with that, I've finished my Sunday morning post, and it's time to go out into the day with a renewed sense of the unfinished business of my own life, a trip to the coffee shop to sit outside in the sunshine with my friends in our lawn chairs, laugh together and look forward to more days of friendship and joy. Dear friends of my heart, you dear friends of the internet, please don't forget to give thanks for today, with all it brings to you. Today will only come along once. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Magic Shoes

SG's rainbow Crocs
Well, not long after I finished last week's post, SG went outside to talk on his cellphone to a friend, something he does once a month or so, and I thought nothing of it. He was wearing these shoes when he came back inside and said something to me. I couldn't understand him. It was unintelligible. Uh-oh, I thought: this isn't right. He grabbed our whiteboard and wrote, "Difficulty talking." I asked him to raise both arms, and he did, but his left one didn't come all the way up. "I'm taking you to the hospital to see what's wrong," I said. When he didn't object, I knew we were in trouble. I drove him carefully the ten minutes to the hospital while he sat in the seat next to me, using the whiteboard to "talk."

When I drove up to the emergency room door, I rushed out to tell someone that I thought my husband was having a stroke. Almost immediately, he was whisked away in a wheelchair and the attendant asked me to park my car and then come back, which I did. My temperature was taken and I was asked a few questions before finding out where he was. When I walked into the room, he was surrounded by five or six people who were doing various things, and a nurse told me he was being taken for a CT scan to see if they could identify a bleed. He was lying there with his head back, eyes closed, and the shoes sticking out from under the bed. I was afraid until the doctor reassured me. He was still unable to say anything understandable, but he could almost form words, and I was relieved that he didn't seem any worse.

I learned that they were working quickly to determine whether or not to give him a dose of Alteplase, a drug that dissolves an ischemic stroke blood clot. I was asked when this all began, and I told them it was only an hour ago, or less, and they got two doctors on video to help us decide whether or not to administer it. By this time, SG was able to form a few words, which relieved me somewhat, and after consultation, he and the doctors decided against the treatment. While I watched, they asked him some questions and performed a few cognitive tests to determine how bad the stroke was. I was now able to see now that the left side of his face was drooping, and that he had definitely had some sort of event. As he lay on the stretcher, the rainbow shoes continue to elicit plenty of comments.

It's no exaggeration to say that I was scared and frightened for him, but the amazing treatment he was receiving made me again grateful for the incredible care we receive at our local hospital. The head nurse also made sure I knew he was likely going to survive and had what appeared to be a mild stroke. "Mild" because he was conscious and able to communicate, even though he couldn't talk. She told me that he was going to be admitted, and since by this time it was after noon, I went home to get some lunch.

When I returned, he was not in the room, and I panicked for a minute, before I was told he was receiving an MRI and a few other tests and would be brought back soon. The feeling of helplessness I was having didn't get any better, but I knew he was in good hands. When they brought him back into the room, I could see he was aware and was able to talk even a little better. He sounded like he had just finished a bottle of vodka and was slurring his words, but they were almost understandable. "He's going to be moved into a room on another floor, so you might as well go home until then," the nurse said.

I didn't want to go, but there was really nothing to be accomplished by standing around, so I went home, where I paced around the living room, not sure how our lives were be altered by this event. I wanted to be with him, to have him back and whole again, and it was impossible to know anything for certain, except that he was alive and in good hands.

When I returned to find he had been given a room on the fourth floor and was being given yet another test, so I got to see his new room before he did. When he came in by wheelchair with a cute nurse attending him, I was so relieved to see him looking alert and smiling at her, even if it was a bit lopsided. I was told that his left side was compromised, but that he did have some sensation there, which was good news. He was still wearing the magic shoes, and by this time dozens of people had commented on them. "Nice Crocs!" "Wow, those are amazing shoes!"

A doctor came in to check on him, and I was told that he had suffered an insular ischemic stroke, on the right side of his brain, which affected his left side. The most common side effects of this type of stroke are dysarthria ( a condition in which problems occur with the muscles that help produce speech, often making it very difficult to pronounce words), and motor deficits. I watched his therapist get him out of bed to use the bathroom, and he seemed a little wobbly, but able to get there without too much help. That encouraged me a lot.

He ended up spending three days and two nights at the hospital, and when I brought him home on Tuesday afternoon, he was able to walk up the steps himself, while holding onto the railing. He was so exhausted after all the trauma that he even went to bed in the early evening, which is very unlike him. I kept checking on him, and he was resting very comfortably, and my spirits rose with the hope that he would soon be okay. Part of the effects of this kind of stroke is that he had no appetite and when he tried to eat, he could taste nothing. But he could eat!

Now that it's been almost a full week since it happened, I have watched his daily progress with simple amazement. He is nothing if not determined: his therapist told him to try to pick up a quarter off the counter and turn it in his left hand. At first, he couldn't do it at all, but he persevered and showed me his progress. Yesterday I saw him with his juggling balls (actually little weighted pillows), and he would throw one from his right hand into his left. It took some doing, but now he can throw it back and forth and almost always catch it with the left hand. And he can walk briskly around the apartment, telling me he's ready for a ten-mile run (he was joking of course). But his mental capacities are not dimmed in the least, and his sense of humor is intact. What else does a person need if you've got that, and a partner who loves you? And magic shoes, of course.

And love him I do: I am beginning to become proficient in Stroke Dialect and can almost always understand what he's saying to me the first time he says it. We will be seeing the doctor after three full weeks on aspirin and Plavix, as well as a statin, and he is determined to get over this as quickly as possible. He has begun to taste food a little, and although he says it's not the same, at least it's beginning to return somewhat.

My heart swells with love for him several times a day, and I am happy to see his progress as I try to keep my desire to help him in check. He has always been an independent and stubborn soul, while I crave to make it better, to help him however I can. The best way is to support him emotionally while letting him do the hard work, I'm learning. We both are during this time. And several people have wondered, as I have, whether the stroke occurred because of Covid, which he had in late March. There's no way to tell.

It doesn't really matter at this stage. He's been poked and prodded and tested extensively (he was tested for the virus while still in the emergency room), and he will get over this, even if his ability to talk might take awhile to return, he's made incredible progress in just a week. I'll let you know next Sunday how the week has gone, but we are counting our blessings and know we are in good hands, both here on Earth and also Up There. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things, dear friends.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Staying healthy in a pandemic

Iceberg Lake with flowers
My friend Carol put this picture on Facebook last week, showing this year's incredible view of Iceberg Lake on the Chain Lakes hike, which I've done many times in the past. She said the flowers are the most prolific she's seen, and I have to agree with her that they are almost unbelievably beautiful. A few times I've gone there on a July day to see the lake still covered with ice (earning its name), but this year there is only a small amount on the far shore. Our hiking group is not meeting for our usual Thursday hikes, but two or three people will get together to enjoy the High Country. We have a Zoom gathering once a week to hear what others are doing during this hiatus from our usual hikes.

The last few years I have found it hard to climb Herman's Saddle in full sun, which is the beginning of this seven-mile-long loop hike. Plenty of elevation gain and a lack of shade makes it challenging for me these days. I remember struggling and find that my ability to do these harder hikes is fading. I am no longer one of the people who looks forward with great pleasure to such strenuous exercise. And I am now limited in distance and difficulty.

It's natural and inevitable as I age that my hiking and walking ability should change. The fact that I can walk or hike seven or eight miles on flat surfaces without a problem should make me happy, but if you add elevation and sunshine into the trip, I am no longer able to keep up. I think I could probably still do this hike on a cool, cloudy day, but I am hesitant to try, since my usual exercise routine has been cut in half during this pandemic. No more daily trips to the gym, strength and tone classes gone, aerobic exercise now limited to neighborhood walks and the occasional outing with my friends Melanie and Dianne. The three of us walked yesterday on the Interurban trail for around six miles. It was easy and the cool weather made us all happy. The sun came out around noon, but the temperature never even reached 70°F, and when the wind came up, I was happy for my jacket. In August!

I have really struggled to find the silver lining in this pandemic. Every morning I drive to the coffee shop, and if the weather allows it, my friend John and I will sit in our lawn chairs outside and enjoy coffee together. Sometimes Gene will join us as well, but it will be a long time before we sit around the community table indoors, given the state of the coronavirus in our state. At least everyone is wearing a mask, or at least almost everyone, and maintaining distancing as required. I consider a few friends to be "family," and when we are alone together, we don't wear masks. They are all, like me, limited in their interactions with others. So far, I haven't known anybody to catch the virus and be hospitalized.

As I've said before, I think both my hubby and I had the virus at the end of March. Our doctors both said to stay home unless we had trouble breathing. SG was the sickest of the two of us, and I think he may have some residual after-effects, but nothing that would cause him to go to the doctor. He had a few telemedicine sessions with his doctor, and she felt that it would be counterproductive for him to come in. I myself had a complete physical, my annual wellness visit, in June, and everything was fine, other than a low white blood count, which resolved in another blood test. My lungs seem to be fine.

The truth is that I am still unwilling to reconcile how much aging has to do with it all. That, and the curtailment of day-long strenuous hikes, has taken its toll. I have learned that one of our hikers had bypass surgery, and he is already back on the trails a month later. He is already doing stuff I can only dream of! But then again, I have learned that you cannot use another person's journey to judge the progress of your own; we are all individuals and must pay attention to how much is just enough in one's quest to be healthy.
Health and good humor are to the human body like sunshine to vegetation. —Massillon
 Oh, yeah: that humor part is essential to one's ability to stay healthy. Some of my blogging friends are including uplifting and humorous sayings to their daily posts, and I look forward to them, since a smile and a chuckle help just about anything. I also feel very fortunate to have discovered both yoga and acupuncture, which seem to help with my everyday moods. A positive attitude goes a long way towards getting through difficulties. And since I have a dear partner to share my life with, a roof over my head, and enough money to buy good food every day, there is little to complain about. Plus, I live in a state that is taking this pandemic seriously and hopefully getting it under control. All reasons to be grateful. We have had 40 people die in Whatcom County from the virus, and almost a thousand cases. Very low in the scheme of things. Something else to give thanks for.

And with that, with my tea long gone, partner still sleeping next to me, it's time to get ready to start the rest of my day. I sincerely hope that you are staying safe during this pandemic, and that you will find someone to share a spot of humor with, or a spot of tea if that is not possible. Don't forget that this too shall pass! Be well, dear friends, until we meet again next week.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

At the top of summer 2020

Lupine and Indian paintbrush
Well, here we are, already into the first days of August. This is probably my least favorite month of the year, since it's also the hottest (unless you're in the Southern Hemisphere, where it's the coldest). It's a month of extremes here in the Pacific Northwest. Unremitting sun, for the most part, with few clouds and little rain. Just about the opposite of the rest of the year. Last week Melanie and I went on a scouting trip looking for summer flowers, when she took the picture above. I have one almost the same, except there is only one lone paintbrush in mine. You might not be able to see how hot it was from the picture, but it was well out of my comfort zone.
The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. ―Natalie Babbitt
That quote says it all for me. Yes, it's the top of the year, with the coming weeks and months taking me into fall, my favorite season. And this year, the strangest I've ever experienced, will be accompanied in the coming months with face masks, social distancing, more hand washing, and no gatherings of any size. It will be a year without hikes with the Senior Trailblazers, no visits to the gym for exercise class, and very limited face time with my friends.

Many of the regular hikers have broken off into smaller groups. We are allowed to gather in groups of five or fewer, but for us, it's been the same three people. On Thursday afternoon, our usual hiking day, we have a Zoom gathering that is visited by many of my dear hiking buddies, and I get a chance to hear what others are doing. There are a few who enjoy going fast and long; others that are more sedate, like me. Melanie could choose to go with the first group, and she sometimes does, but she also likes to slow down now and then with me. I've decided that I'm done with the hard hikes and will limit my outings to eight or nine miles, tops.

I have a nice four-mile walk in the neighborhood that I take two or three times a week, usually early in the morning these days, and listening to podcasts as I walk. I bought myself some Apple AirPods that I really enjoy using. They have a noise canceling feature that works very well, and with a quick tap, I can make it possible to hear other sounds around me. The only time I use them is when I am out walking in my neighborhood. On TV, I see that many of the pundits are using them also. Their distinctive look, like white earrings, is ubiquitous these days, since most of these people are not in a studio but at home and joining remotely.

In the six months or so since the world has been turned upside down by the coronavirus, I read and learn as much as I can about it, and how we and other countries are faring. We are not doing so well here in the US, but I am proud of how my county and state have adapted. We are still in Phase 2 of reopening, and our governor has paused any further openings until we have returned to R-0, or where we are no longer gaining new infections but are on the decline. We were there for a short while, but then restaurants and bars reopened (even in a limited capacity) and caused a spike. It's happening all over the country.

On Friday, I joined my friend Lily for a beer at a local restaurant that has plenty of outdoor seating. They have picnic tables set up outside, shaded with umbrellas, and a Plexiglass shield separating them into two seating areas. The menu is available through a smartphone: you point your camera at a sign and it magically appears on your phone. Many places no longer allow you to pay with cash; instead you need a credit card so that there are fewer interactions with money. Even the local ice cream shop doesn't allow you to pay with cash. When we return to our new normal, I wonder how many of these things will remain in the post-Covid world.

We are nothing if not adaptable. Most of us are able to have limited visits with friends, and my Zoom yoga classes have become an essential part of my self-care. I didn't think I would become accustomed to it as well as I have, and now I'm thinking that I just might continue doing remote yoga, once we are able to return to the studio. It certainly helped to have several years of in-person instruction before this all happened. Mostly I know what to do and how to correct myself, but the familiar voice of my instructor reminds me often. And she can see us through the Zoom interface and will sometimes correct us by name when she sees something not quite right.

Speaking of adaptation, I learned that one of those awful murder hornets that have invaded our state has been caught in a trap. Someone right here in Bellingham found one on her back porch, and the one trapped was also in our county.
Scientists have been trying to trap the invasive insects and prevent an infestation since they were first spotted in the state last year. More than two inches long, the hornets get their nickname from their propensity to attack and kill honeybees and potentially, people.
Since their appearance in our area, I have worried about seeing one and not knowing what to do. Our honeybees have no defense against them, but I learned that in Japan, where they have been around for awhile, their honeybees have learned to surround a murder hornet scout with hundreds of bees, and vibrate long enough and hard enough to generate heat and "cook" it. Talk about adaptation! Nature always finds a way.

Which makes me feel optimistic about our ability as humans to find a way to adapt to whatever comes. One thing I have learned over the years is that nothing is as difficult or daunting as it often first appears. There are silver linings to everything, and it might take us some time to find out what this coronavirus is bringing us, but I know for sure that we will prevail. I feel fortunate to be alive long enough to see what is ahead. At least, I hope I will live long enough; our days are not guaranteed, and I've certainly lived a good long time already.

But unless something happens that will keep me from being around to usher in the year 2021, I'll find out. And I am definitely happy to be able to surround myself with wonderful virtual friends, ones that make my days more delightful, and give me a sense of community that is invaluable. My dear partner still sleeps next to me, but he's beginning to stir around, so I'd probably better wind this up and start the rest of my August day. Until we meet again, dear friends, I wish you all good things, and don't forget to count all those blessings.