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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Going Up!!!

 
We’ve been spending a lot of time in hospitals lately. My son Brett has had four operations in and around his brain in the past six weeks. The surgeries were followed by stays in the ICU (intensive care unit) and a few weeks in a rehabilitation facility. All of which allows me to generalize a little—hospitals are scary places. They have a look, a smell, and, most of all, a sound all their own.

I thought I had experienced most of the hospital sounds over the past few weeks. Bells, alarms, beeping monitors, loud hacking coughs, cheery nurses, and more. Then I heard something different and a little exciting during Brett’s most recent stay. When we entered the elevator on the ground floor at NYU Hospital, a recorded voice said, “Going up.” Nothing surprising there. But I could swear the words were spoken with an upward lilt. It sounded something like this, “Goooooing uP!”  Not to be outdone, when we entered the elevator on a high floor to start a downward journey, the voice said “Going down” with a little bit of a descending tone, like this: “GOOOing DOWnnnn.”
 
Movin' on up...
Now this may have been my imagination, but I know what I heard. I also see a metaphor here. There is a happiness when you are going up, even if it’s to a hospital room. And if you’re a visitor coming to see a friend or family member, even better. You’re on a mission of hope and joy. When you leave, you might be a little down. After all, you have just experienced being in a hospital!

We are all happy to be hospital free for the near future. There will be some scans to accompany Brett to on a regular basis and perhaps some other potential procedures down the line. Who knows? A lot is unknown when you are dealing with hospitals, no matter how many monitors, and dials, and tubes, and X-ray or CT or MRI machines are there to demystify the unknown. Good health is a precarious thing, as my mother-in-law often wisely noted. She put it this way: “As long as you have your health. . .” She often left the rest of the sentence blank, but we knew just what she meant.

I am happy to report that, for now, Brett has his health. And that sounds pretty uplifting to us.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

 
Too Many Changes 

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(Turn and face the strange)
Ch-ch-changes
Just gonna have to be a different man
                        -- David Bowie

My life had been getting into a pattern lately. Days took on a sameness with slight variations. Work on a few different writing projects. Go to the gym or go downstairs to our exercise equipment. Read from books or on the computer. Watch MSNBC for hours on end and curse the darkness taking over the White House. Think about and do some research for that long-anticipated book (short story, essay, paragraph, sentence, whatever) about my father’s family’s migration from Eastern Europe to the Deep South—which I still haven’t begun writing in earnest, etc.

Some people hate sameness and look forward to change. Me, not so much.

But change seems to keep coming in waves into my life lately.

Last Friday, for instance, I had to work with a new trainer at the gym. New for me at least. I have gotten accustomed to Marlon, my exercise mentor from Peru. He pushes me, but not too hard. I sweat, but not in buckets. But Marlon was going to be away from the gym for several weeks with a mysterious illness. So, I agreed to work with Will, who, as it turns out, seemed to have no respect for my advancing age. Here is an example. He put me on a new machine and showed me how to push and pull properly. He figured I knew what to do after I pulled or pushed five times. Then he said, “Good, do 20 of those.”  Then we began our count. I figured we were starting at 6 since I had already done 1 through 5 getting into the pattern. He began counting at 1! So, we were doing 25 and not 20, it seemed. Outrageous!

Then, he kept increasing the weight on each machine with each rep. Soon, I was sweating buckets. Amazingly, I agreed to work with him two times next week.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(Turn and face the strange)
 
Small changes at the gym, big changes elsewhere.
 
The patterns of our lives have been undergoing major changes at home.  Our son Brett initiated those when he collapsed on a New York street a month ago and was rushed to NYU Hospital. Three life-saving brain surgeries later to deal with a long-festering brain tumor, and all of our lives have been turned upside-down and inside-out. For the next several months, he will be living back in our house in New Jersey, building up his strength and stamina and getting his overall health in order. His doctors are optimistic. He and we are learning to be optimistic. We’re looking to get our patterns back. It’s not quite as simple, or as satisfyingly boring as it was before, but we plan on getting back there again soon.

Brett has a happy reunion with our dog Tess.
He'll need the helmet for a few more weeks
to protect his fragile skull.

Brett posing with two fellow baldies.
His recuperation has been going remarkably well.

 Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(Turn and face the strange) 

Audrey turned to me the other night in bed and said, “I really don’t like change that much.” I have to agree. After all, I remember those days, just last week, when 20 was 20 and not 25.

Friday, January 6, 2017

 
Seems Like Old Times . . .

I am thinking a lot about aging lately and about one of Audrey’s grandmother’s most famous sayings, “It’s no fun to get old.” The expression is more fatalistic than Oomi was herself. She was a remarkable woman, who was commuting downtown to a job as an inspector in the garment district into her 80s. But she did have a tendency to make sighing and burping sounds in her later years. I have been making some of those same sounds lately . . . and more. Is that creaking that I hear coming from my bones?
Audrey and Oomi, a long time ago
To add to my sense of foreboding is the recent diagnosis by my ophthalmologist that I need cataract surgery. (Isn’t that something for only old people?) So, next week, I will be going under the knife, or whatever they use for removing and replacing my original, now defective natural lens with a better artificial one. My doctor is very optimistic. He assures me that the surgery will help me feel more comfortable dealing with glaring headlights at night, a problem that until recently I thought plagued only old people. (Uh-oh, there goes that refrain again.) He also claims that 98% of people who undergo the procedure come through with positive results. I am not fully reassured. His comment makes me think of those times as a school kid when I would come home with a 98 on a test, and my father would ask, “What happened to the other two points.” It also doesn’t help that the staff at the facility where the procedure takes place asked me during a preclearance interview if I have an advance directive on file—just in case. Oh my!

As Petula Clark sang, "The lights are much brighter there. . ."
I am not alone in this feeling of declining, it seems. When I told a cousin about the upcoming surgery, he noted that he had a similar procedure a few years ago. He assures me that his condition was probably worse than mine. Of course, when I complained previously about another health issue to the same cousin, he quickly topped it with one of his own.

Then last week when I was in Savannah, I mentioned another potential health concern to my brother, the doctor. It has the word “hernia” connected to it. “That’s nothing,” he said, “I have a …”

 
My brother and cousin are both in their 70s, and they are teaching me an important lesson about getting older. Whenever someone mentions a health issue (and that is quite often the topic when us aging people get together), be prepared to describe your own issue in detail and to explain why yours is more worrisome. Maybe Oomi was wrong. There is fun to be had in growing old. It’s just a perverse sort of fun in which you out-complain everybody else.