Step by Step

I love reading, and mystery novels are my favorite genre.  Trying to figure out “who did it” is a fun challenge, but what I especially love about mysteries is that they almost always have a strong plot line and a definite conclusion.  By the end of the book the mystery has been solved, all questions have been answered, and all the loose ends are neatly tied up.  I can close the book with a sigh of satisfaction and move on to another story.  Which, in my opinion, is just how it should be.

Sadly, real life rarely works out that way.  Real life tends to be messy and confusing, with lots of loose ends that may or may not be tied up eventually, and problems that can go unresolved for years.  Reality doesn’t always provide the clear beginning, middle, and end that our favorite stories deliver.  And sometimes our troubles drag on for so long that we find it hard to believe they’ll ever be over.

When we met with the oncologist after my husband’s cancer diagnosis, he told us the schedule for the chemo treatment would be an infusion every three weeks for eighteen weeks.  I went home and dutifully marked our calendar for each treatment, even writing in “done with chemo!” on the last date.  But when I mentioned this to the oncologist at our next visit, he told me that chemo doesn’t work that way.  My husband would have his blood tested before each infusion to make sure he was strong enough to go through the treatment, so there might be times when we would have a delay for a week or so.  He said that the chemo schedule was only a suggestion, and that we would take the whole thing step by step, depending on my husband’s reaction.

It turned out he was right, because my husband actually finished chemo a bit earlier than they had predicted, and we were especially thrilled when early tests showed that he didn’t need the major surgery that sometimes follows.  Unfortunately, later tests showed he did need two surgeries, and both of them resulted in longer hospital stays than anyone expected.  What should have been a nine-month course of cancer treatment stretched into a fourteen months, partially due to Covid restrictions.  And somewhere during all that mess, I learned to stop looking for a definitive schedule and to simply take each day, and each test/treatment/procedure as it came.

Which may explain why I’m having trouble accepting that, as far as we know, my husband is now in remission.  I had thought that the end of his cancer treatment would feel like a victory, with my husband and I toasting each other over a bottle of champagne and exclaiming “It’s over!”  Part of the problem is that cancer doesn’t really work that way, because it’s a sneaky disease that has a habit of rearing it’s ugly head when we least expect it.  My husband will be closely monitored in the upcoming months to make sure all is well, and I know we will be nervous before each and every test and scan.

eW3mn0cBQVebae5TBOD62QBut mostly, the problem is that my husband’s battle with cancer didn’t end with a victorious “bang.”  It has simply wound down, slowly, and on an unpredictable schedule of its own.  And it’s taking both of us a while to give ourselves permission to believe that the worst is truly behind us.  But that’s okay, because we’ll get there eventually, the exact same way we got through his treatment:  one step at a time.

Just Be There

We’ve had a rough couple of weeks in our household, and things are just now returning to normal.  Once again, my husband had a surgery that went well and a recovery that didn’t.  Honestly, he’s spent so much time in a hospital lately that I seriously considered hauling in his favorite recliner chair and repainting the walls of the room his favorite color.  I figured if he had to be stuck for so long in a hospital room, we may as well make it nice.  Luckily, he was released before I gave in to the urge to redecorate his surroundings and now he’s back home where he belongs.

I’ve always found that when difficult times arrive, I spend all my time and energy just coping, and don’t really “process” what’s happened until later. But now that things have finally calmed down, I find myself looking back over the past few weeks and realizing one very important thing:  there is no way in the world I would have managed without the amazing support of so many caring people.

Hospitals have always been scary places for me (I tend to faint at the sight of blood), but I found out they’re even scarier when the patient is your loved one and and they aren’t doing so well.  And you know what helped me deal with that fear?  The nursing staff who were unfailingly cheerful and attentive, and who always took the time to reassure me when I needed it.  Being an advocate for a patient in a hospital is exhausting, both physically and emotionally, but seeing how good the nurses were at caring for my husband made it so much easier to bear.

I’m also incredibly thankful for the many friends and relatives who took the time to call and text, keeping track of my husband’s progress and offering nonstop encouragement and support.  There were times when those texts were the lifeline I needed to stay (or at least try to appear) calm and strong, and other times when they  provided relief from the boredom of sitting in a hospital room day after day, or gave me a much-needed laugh.  Friends and family are gifts, and you never realize just how much of a gift until you’re in a tough spot and they’re right there with you every step of the way.

It was also a gift to see so many people reaching out to my husband in his time of need.  He had more people praying for him than I could possibly count.  Cards arrived almost daily, some from college friends he hasn’t seen in decades, and all of them helped raise his spirits.  One of his old friends sent him personalized copies of the books he’d written about his own battle with cancer, and the tips for staying positive helped enormously.  Frankly, my husband isn’t usually much for reading, but he not only read those books, he took one of them with him when he was readmitted to the hospital and read from it daily.

This post is more personal than what I usually write, and I hope I haven’t overdone the detail.  But the reason I’m sharing it is simple.  The next time someone you know is going through a tough time, please reach out and offer them your support.  Don’t let fear of intruding or “being a pest” stop you.  Because even if they don’t have time to acknowledge it or respond to you, your care and concern will mean the world to them.  Trust me, it really will.

Patiently Waiting

I’ve never been a patient person.  Waiting is not my strong point, no matter what I happen to be waiting for.  If I’m looking forward to something good, then I want it to happen right now, this very second.  Even if I’m dreading something, I’d much rather just hurry up and get it over with, sooner rather than later.  Unfortunately, there are times in my life where I don’t really have a choice, and I find myself having to wait with as much patience as I possibly can.

A few weeks ago, my husband had a scheduled surgery that was supposed to result in a three to five-day hospital stay.  The surgery went well, but his recovery didn’t, and he ended up spending over ten days in the hospital due to minor complications.  I wish I could say that I always handled the situation with patience and grace, but that would be a lie.  What I actually did was worry a lot, feel sorry for myself and even sorrier for my husband, and in general wake up each morning thinking, “PLEASE let today be the day that he finally gets to come home.”

It was a long ten days, but I did learn a few things about myself in the process, not the least of which is that I would make a truly awful nurse.  I’ve always been a bit of a klutz, but repeatedly tripping over various tubes that are actually connected to a patient is never a good thing, and neither is forgetting to unhook the IV pole before helping him go for a walk in the hallway.  Also, it’s a good idea to wind the chord of the nurse call button around the bed railings, because otherwise it falls off the bed every time you adjust the blankets…and then you have to keep telling the nurse station that you didn’t really mean to call them.

Luckily, I also learned some more useful lessons during my husband’s recovery, and the main one was that when I have no choice, I really can manage to wait patiently for things to get better.  Although I’ve always been nervous in hospitals (I never even like visiting a patient), I actually became accustomed to the routine and stopped having to look away from any procedure that involved blood or other body fluids.  I spent hours sitting quietly in the corner, reading a book while my husband slept, and actually became quite friendly with some of the nurses.  It’s amazing what we can endure when we have to, and I do think it helps to be reminded of that from time to time.

Of course I would have much rather my husband’s hospital stay hadn’t lasted quite so long, and to have spared him that trauma and both of us that worry.  But I like to think that the next time I’m waiting for something I desperately want right now, that I’ll remember there’s a reserve of strength and patience in each of us, just waiting for us to tap into it. And that when we do, we’ll have everything we we need to tide us over until the hard times are over….

Unspoken

ScanWhen I was a young child, I loved going for a pony ride.  In those days, even big cities had “pony tracks” where kids could ride a pony a few laps around an oval track, and my parents took us to one on a regular basis.  The ponies would line up at the rail at the end of the track, and we would go stand next to the pony we wanted to ride until the track manager lifted us up into the saddle.  When everyone was ready, he would signal to the ponies and they’d all walk or trot around the track while he stood in the center, directing them.  It was usually the highlight of my week.

My favorite pony was a sweet brown one named “Cricket,” and I always headed straight for him.  But one day I was shocked to find myself being scooped up and plunked down on the pony next to Cricket.  Before I knew what was happening, I was riding around the pony track on a strange pony while poor Cricket was still standing at the rail, riderless.  It wasn’t long before I started crying, for myself because I wasn’t on my favorite pony, and for Cricket, because I was sure his feelings were terribly hurt by being left behind.

The man in the center ring asked why I was crying, but I didn’t answer him.  Worried that the ponies were going too fast, he had them go slower and slower, but I just kept crying.  I could tell he was getting frustrated with me, yet I just couldn’t manage to tell him what was wrong.  I cried for the entire ride, and for most of the car ride home as well, but I never told anyone that I was upset simply because they had put me on the wrong pony.

That was a long time ago, but there have been many times in my life when I just couldn’t find the words to tell people what was bothering me, no matter how much I wanted to.  Sometimes I didn’t even understand exactly why I was sad or upset, and other times I was embarrassed or worried that I’d hurt someone’s feelings.  And I think this is a problem that most of us have now and then.  How many times have you noticed someone who is obviously unhappy, but when you ask what’s wrong, they tell you they’re just fine?

The truth is that everyone faces challenges from time to time, and everyone is struggling with something almost all of the time.  We can usually talk about those things with our friends and loved ones, but there are times when that struggle is something that we face alone, at least for a little while.  But even when people don’t talk about what’s bothering them, their behavior almost always reflects it.  Which is something we need to bear in mind when we’re dealing with people who act in ways we find baffling or annoying.

It’s so easy to get frustrated when people say and do things that make no sense to us, and it’s even easier to lash out at them with ridicule and condemnation.  But I think we need to remember that at one time or another, we were all that little kid crying on a pony for reasons she couldn’t begin to explain.  And all that kid really needs is a little patience and compassion…….

Wishful Thinking

Ann's bday 2I’ve never wasted much time on making wishes.  Even at my childhood birthday parties, when it was time to make a wish before blowing out the candles on my cake, I usually couldn’t think of anything to wish for.  (Especially after the year I wished for my very own pony and discovered that what you wish for and what you get are often two very different things.)  But maybe it’s because I’ve gotten older, or maybe it’s the strange and often unpleasant times we’re living in, but these days, I actually do have things I wish for.  A whole list of them, as a matter of fact.

Every time I see a political ad on TV or a political meme on social media, I wish that politicians and their followers would remember that simple rule, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  I want to hear what good a candidate hopes to accomplish rather than what a horrible person his or her opponent is.  The constant attacks and counter-attacks that pass for campaigning these days just make me want to go live somewhere more peaceful…..like a deserted island or distant planet.

I wish that I hadn’t tried to save money, all those years ago, by getting a landline without caller ID because the constant calls I get from telemarketers, etc., have made me forget some of my basic phone manners.  I not only hang up on the telemarketers who call constantly, but I’ve grown deeply suspicious of anyone who doesn’t immediately identify themselves when they call.  Which is how I’ve also hung up on my doctor, my husband’s old college roommate, and a dozen or so assorted relatives and friends.  I know I’m going to have to simply get rid of the landline one of these days, but it’s on so many of our records and accounts that I dread the difficulties that’s going to cause.  I can’t even work up the nerve to call the phone company and try to get caller ID installed, because my previous dealings with them have not been of a positive nature.

I wish I had the ability to remember people’s names as well as I do their faces.  It’s embarrassing when someone I recognize calls me by name, and I have to try to hide the fact that I have no idea what their name is.  And I still haven’t lived down the time I kept referring to a fellow volunteer as “Eldon” and no one could figure out who I was talking about.  It turned out that was because his real name was “Dalton.”

There is so much else I wish for, but I do like to keep my posts at around 500 words.  Sadly, these days I’m guessing what 500 words is, because my blogging format no longer tells me.  (So if anyone actually counts and discovers I failed my word count goal, I apologize in advance.)  I know wishing isn’t the same as doing, but I’ve also lived long enough to know that sometimes, life surprises us in a good way.  So who knows?  Maybe some of my wishes really will come true.  And if I’m really lucky, I might even finally get that pony……

Something New

This is my first attempt to write a blog post using the new format that Word Press has installed on my blog,  so I have no idea what the finished product is going to look like.  It reminds me of when I began blogging over five years ago, and I spent hours trying to figure out how to create a new blog, name it, and send it out into cyberspace.  It took an act of faith to hit that “publish” button for the first time, and I suspect it’s going to take an equally strong act of faith to publish this post.  So if the end result seems a little strange, I humbly ask you to bear with me.

As my regular readers know, adapting to change is not my strong point.  I’m not against new things, it’s just that I very much prefer it when the change is a matter of my own personal choice, and not something that has been foisted upon me.  I also like my change meted out in small doses, giving me time to adjust to one new thing at a time.  Sadly, whoever is in charge of change seems to have hit the “fast forward button” and left the room, locking the door behind him.

qMzfbapTQq2tzLWNgWaX6wSo all I can do is try to adapt to this new normal which is chock-full of strange new things.  When I invited some friends over for a happy hour recently and the rain prevented us from gathering on my patio, I set up chairs and small tables in the garage instead.  I figured out how to navigate Facebook’s new format, and even discovered that they hadn’t done away with “Messenger” as I had initially feared. (Although they did make it hard to find.)  I keep a stash of face masks in my car and hand sanitizer in my purse at all times.   And now I’m blogging in a completely new format, even though I was perfectly happy with the old one. 

I’m not going to lie, I wish that I could have just a tiny little break from this constant parade of change in my life, but I also know that’s probably not going to happen.  This is a very odd year, and I’m sure lots of other changes are in store and that some of them won’t be good ones.  (I’m just waiting for the day they announce that hand sanitizer causes cancer…..) 

But no good comes from looking back on “the good old days” and wishing that I could somehow go back in time.  And when I’m being completely honest with myself, I realize that those good old days weren’t always so good.  I had problems and worries then, just the same as I do now…they were just different problems and worries.  Plus, all the adapting I’ve had to do in recent months has shown me that I’m a little bit stronger and a little bit more flexible that I thought. 

So I’ll keep plugging away, making the necessary adjustments, occasionally grieving over my losses, but also appreciating the gifts that have also come my way.  And if I’m lucky, I’ll figure out this new way to blog and will once again enjoy writing my posts and be able to hit that “publish” button with confidence……

 

A State of Confusion

I’ve never been the brightest bulb on the string, which means there has always been much in the world that I simply don’t understand. When I was young, I thought that things would make more sense to me as I aged, but I was wrong.  If anything, I’m more confused now than I ever was.

I’m not talking about the obvious issues here:  how a pandemic managed to turn the world upside down, or when we decided that being angry was a good enough reason to lash out at any handy target.  (Although I don’t pretend to understand any of that.)  I’m talking about the little changes that are going on all around me, and for which I can’t find a single sensible explanation.

I have so many questions, but I’ll just give a few examples of the things that confound me.  Such as how every bank I know of is pushing on-line banking, and was busy cutting both the hours and staff at their branches even before Covid-19 arrived.  And yet what are those very same banks doing?  Building new branches, as in actual brick-and-mortar banking offices.  There’s at least five new ones under construction in my neighborhood alone.   Why in the world are they building new branch offices when they’re barely using the ones they already have?

And speaking of construction, I would no longer even consider buying a brand-new house.  Sure, it would be great to have new plumbing and wiring (I have to turn off the lights in my kitchen if I want to vacuum the family room without blowing a circuit), but I have no use for an “open-concept” floor plan.  I don’t know when we decided that having a walls was a bad thing, but it was probably the same time we decided that barn doors belonged in houses, and that the only acceptable colors in a kitchen were white, gray, and grayish-white.  I want a kitchen that is cozy and inviting, and in my opinion, most modern kitchens have all the warmth and charm of an operating room.

When I first bought a cell phone, I was annoyed because the sales person promised me the day would come when I would be completely dependent on it.   I just wanted to be able to call people, for goodness sake.  Yet here I am years later, stressing out if I forget to take my phone along every single time I leave the house.  How can I possibly get through a few hours without my phone calls, texts, and emails?  But the worst part is, that’s still not enough dependency.   According to modern standards, I should also be using my phone for social media, all my purchases, my banking, and even locking my front door.  Because then, if I should happen to lose my phone, anyone who is lucky enough to find it can steal everything in my house, empty my bank account, and go on a big spending spree at my expense.

I’m not sure if my confusion means I’m just an old fogy who can’t be bothered to learn modern ways, or if being clueless is simply a natural state for me.  I suspect it is a little bit of both.  Which I guess means that the title of this blog is at least half right:  I may not be middle-aged anymore, but I’m definitely still muddling through my life…..

A Dog’s Life

1V5A5533Sometimes it’s not easy being a dog.  Don’t get me wrong:  I love my family.  I really do.  And after living for months in an animal shelter, I’m really grateful to be in a house with my own dog bed, dog toys, and best of all, my own supper dish.  My human parents treat me very well most of the time.  They take me for walks, play with me, and give me lots of attention.  Plus, I’ve got them trained to be very generous with the dog treats.

But there are still times when it’s hard to be a dog living in a house that is run by humans.  Because sometimes humans say and do things that don’t make any sense at all.

For instance, our house has two beds, three couches, and five upholstered chairs.  Every single piece of that furniture is absolutely perfect for curling up and sleeping on.  I know, because I’ve done it.  They’re incredibly soft and comfortable, and obviously designed for a good nap.  But what happens whenever Mom or Dad finds me sleeping on them?  I get told to get down, that’s what.  And not too nicely, either.  Sometimes they even call me a bad dog.

Thunderstorms are another example.  Whenever I hear the rumble of thunder, or even sense the change in atmosphere that tells me a storm is coming, I do the only sensible thing and hide.  Everyone knows that when the end of the world is so obviously imminent, your only chance is to find a safe spot to ride it out.  But do my parents join me?  Nope.  They just go on about their business, acting as if nothing is wrong.  Sometimes (and I swear I’m not making this up), they even put on their raincoats and leave the house.  I can hear them driving off, leaving me all alone to face the danger.

But the weirdest stuff started a couple of months ago, when the vet told my Mom that I had tested positive for heart worm.  I didn’t think it was such a big deal, since worms are rather common in the dog world, but my parents freaked out.  No more walks for me, or games of fetch.  Dad even fenced off most of the yard so I didn’t have much room to run around.  Worst of all, they switched me to a low-calorie dog food.  It doesn’t taste nearly as good as my regular food, but I had to eat it anyway.

They made me go to the vet twice to get some injections, and I can tell you that dogs don’t like to get shots any more than people do.  The second time I even had to spend the night at the vet’s office.  Whatever was in that shot made me feel sore and tired for a long time, but gradually I began to feel better.  Still, I wondered if I’d ever get my normal life back.

Thankfully, my vet has decided that the heart worms are gone, and my parents have calmed down.  Dad even took down that ugly temporary fence, so now I can go behind the garage and hunt for varmits.  The rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks have gotten really bold during the time I’ve been on restrictions, but I’ll soon put an end to that.

So, I guess there’s hope for my parents after all.  If they can figure out that dogs are supposed to be able to go for walks and play in the back yard, they might figure out the other stuff too.  Maybe they’ll even join me under the chair the next time there’s a thunderstorm.  And if we don’t all fit under there, I’ve got some diet dog food I’d gladly share….

Love, Finn

Stepping Up

When I first heard about social distancing and rumors of an impending “shelter at home” order, I started planning how I’d spend my extra leisure time at home.  I wanted to paint our guest bedroom, and clean out the storage area of our basement since all the shelves are, once again, completely full.  (I honestly believe that stuff knows how to reproduce, because no matter how many times we clean out our storage shelves, they fill right back up with junk I have no memory of ever bringing home.)  Knowing that I’d need something to keep my spirits up, I also planned to read tons of books, and even bought a jigsaw puzzle because I’ve always found it soothing to work on a puzzle.  Unfortunately, the walls are still unpainted, the storage shelves are still full of mysterious junk, and the jigsaw puzzle is still in it’s box, unopened.

TH7p4prHTY2Lj2gFkx6NfAMy daughter and son-in-law were lucky to keep their jobs and be able to work from home.  But since his daycare closed, I’ve been spending my days caring for my two-year old grandson.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to do it.  I love being with him and I know that in times like these, families have to support each other any way they can.  I’m just saying that there was a reason I had my own children over thirty years ago, when I had much more energy and stamina.

I knew my life was going to change drastically when our area went into “shelter at home” mode, I just misjudged exactly how it was going to change.  And that made me realize that even though all of us who aren’t essential workers are basically in the same boat, these restrictions don’t necessarily mean the same thing to everyone.  I see so many postings on social media about how to fill our idle hours, and I can’t even begin to relate to that.  I’m busier now that I’ve been in a long time, and I haven’t been this tired at the end of the day since my own kids were toddlers.

It’s only natural to assume that the way  these life-saving changes affect us is the same way they affect others, but that’s not true.  For some of us, it’s nothing more than a minor inconvenience, but for others, this can mean financial disaster because they’ve been laid-off, or heartbreak as they watch the business they put all their time and money into slowly die. Some of us almost welcome the break from our normally hectic lives, but for those who suffer from anxiety and depression, being told to self-isolate for a long period of time is devastating.  And they don’t need anyone telling them that this “isn’t so bad.”

Obviously, we all need to do everything we can to slow down the spread of this horrible virus.  But I think we need to remember that these necessary social isolation measures and mandatory “shelter at home” orders are much harder on some people than others, and so we need to be careful not to tell others how they should feel about it.  And we need to let them tell us their own truth, without judging them, even if we can’t really relate to what they’re saying.

My truth is that I’m feeling everyone of my sixty-one years these days, and I hate dire speculations about how this pandemic is going to play out because they rob me of my ability to cope.  But when I’m snuggling with my grandson while he drifts off to sleep, I also feel incredibly lucky for this temporary opportunity to be such a big part of his life and to witness first-hand how quickly he’s growing and learning new things.   Which means that my days may not be idle, but they are still, in their own way, very blessed indeed.

Something Good

Just a few weeks ago, I was stressed about my upcoming implant (no matter how you try to sugar-coat it, an implant means someone is screwing a metal post into your jaw), my dog’s heart-worm diagnosis, and managing a Spring calendar that was overcrowded with events and trips.  I found myself wishing that somehow my life could become less complicated.  Today, my social calendar is completely empty, my dentist’s office closed after completing only the first part of the procedure, and Finn’s much-needed heart worm treatment may be postponed.   Which I guess supports that old saying, “Be careful what you wish for.”

Lots of people are pointing the finger of blame and even more are trying to dictate exactly how we should be feeling right now, and I have very little patience with any of them.  But there are also many people who are spreading messages of hope, who are encouraging us to be kind and tolerant, and who are reminding us that no matter how bad things become, we will get through this.  I don’t know about you, but I find those messages very comforting and reassuring.  And I thought maybe I could help others by sharing the coping mechanisms that work best for me.

First, I’m limiting my exposure to the news media and to the negative aspects of social media as much as possible.  I turn on the news in the morning just long enough to stay abreast of current events, and then I switch the channel.  There’s something comforting about watching people on television shows go about their normal lives, and doing the things we used to do before anyone knew what “social distancing” meant.  As for Facebook, I’ve found that the “unfollow” button is my new best friend.  It allows me to stay friends with those who are constantly publishing angry posts without having the vitriol spread all over my news-feed.

I’m using the extra time I now have to do the chores around my house that I’ve been ignoring for so long, and that feels good.  I take my dog for (sedate) walks when the weather permits, and still go to the shelter to help with the dogs that are living there because animals in cages always need someone to care for them.  And now that my grandson’s daycare is closing, I’m going to be babysitting for him while his parents work from home.  I’m eager to spend more time with him, even though I’m sure there will also be times when I remember why I had my own kids when I was young.

u69gwAJcQXfDEE8WD6QI’m trying to indulge in small pleasures whenever I can, including taking the time to read a little bit every day.  When I spotted flowers while stocking up on food at the grocery store, I hesitated.  Should I really be spending money on something so unnecessary?  But then I realized that now is exactly the time to surround myself with anything that cheers me up, and added them to my cart.

Most importantly, I’m trying to stay in touch with family and friends, particularly those who are hurting the most, through calls, texts and emails.  I’ve found that each time I do something that helps someone else, I feel a little less stressed and worried, and a little bit more empowered.  It reminds me that I can still make a positive impact on our troubled world, in my own small way.  And that lesson will serve me well long after this horrible virus has left finally left town.