As the months ticked off in 2020, I became more anxious, dreading the coming of May. There was, and will continue to be, an elephantine basket of emotion attached to the month. The beginning of the month is Rich’s birthday. The seventeenth is my mother’s birthday, and my brother’s is the twenty-eighth.
My mother and brother saw me as my Chinese horoscope, an obedient ox with boundless strength whose sole purpose was to accommodate their laziness and narcissistic needs and stifle my own. I took care of my mother until she died in 2014, even moving her into our Mount Vernon, WA house and refurbishing her Sherwood, OR house so it could be leased to pay for her care. After my brother received his inheritance, I never heard from him again. In truth, his support and benevolence throughout the years was so minimal that his disappearance from my life was inconsequential.
May also conjures up memories of one of our favorite activities, sailing. For 11 days in May 2019, we sailed around the Canadian Gulf Islands. It was our last trip when we could both effortlessly, on two working legs, jump off a sailboat onto a dock, raise, lower, and flake sails, easily traverse the stairs to go below and above deck, and hike around marinas and rural islands. At the end of the month is Memorial Day, and the one-year anniversary of our motorcycle accident.
As April faded into May, I awoke every morning with apprehension. Unlike Rich, who takes each day as it comes, I ruminate over every turn-of-event from struggling vegetable seedlings to a temporary lull in my work, even though I’m essentially a full-time salaried employee. Adding to my anxiety was the lack of movement on our lawsuit. While we realized our chances of getting anything was darn close to zero, we were aware the woman who hit us had several assets that could possibly be awarded to us.
We’d asked for photos of these assets. Their attorney sent pictures of their 35-foot Winnebago, which was not only torn up inside, but they still owed around $50,000 on the loan. Months ago, they told our attorney that their son occasionally lives in the motorhome. Obviously, this wasn’t true because the pictures we were sent showed everything inside had been removed, including all the cabinets, appliances, and built-ins like the bed and dinette.
It was preposterous to think a trashed motorhome for which we’d have to pay $50,000 once we got the title would compensate us for the horrific physical damage from the accident.
Adding to my consternation was the inevitability of Rich’s insurance, Kaiser Permanente–and potentially my insurance–taking most of the settlement, less our attorney fees. Initially, Kaiser wanted to take the full settlement. Our attorney, however, made it clear they could only take Rich’s portion.
Apparently, insurance companies can recoup their costs and ignore the reality that those injured may need their settlement money for expenses. The provision that enables health insurance companies to recoup their costs is known as subrogation. Although, it should probably be called greed since insurance companies unlike us, weren’t injured and hospitalized, didn’t lose the ability to work or have to work part-time, incur the expense of retrofitting their homes with grab bars, shower chairs, and ramps, have high out-of-pocket deductibles, or need to pay people to do gardening and housework while confined to wheelchairs.
It’s numbing being victimized over-and-over again with the settlement money going to our attorney and insurance companies, instead of reimbursing us for past, on-going, and future expenses.
American capitalism is callous. It’s becoming more difficult to achieve a high quality of life given the cost and difficulty of acquiring a quality education, landing a high-paying reliable job, and affording a simple house in a safe neighborhood. Heap on top, the lack of atonement and compensation for wrongs in a justice system that favors profits over people.
If a negligent driver causes serious injury to someone, they shouldn’t be able to skirt responsibility. And you shouldn’t have to hire an attorney to protect your interests because you happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As May approached, these concerns bubbled to the surface, foreshadowing the inevitability of the one-year anniversary of our accident.
April marked my next three-month check-up. While I felt like I was making remarkable progress with little discomfort, I was aware my tibia plateau fracture—the one where my tibia came through the front of my calf—was struggling to heal when it was x-rayed in mid-January.
With COVID-19 raging in Seattle and the surrounding area, Harborview Medical Center had stopped all elective procedures and patient visits and was primarily focused on providing emergency care and treating patients infected with coronavirus. The orthopedic clinic where I’d been going, called in late March, and asked whether I could get x-rays taken on Whidbey Island.
I was a bit leery, but the clinic interfaced with WhidbeyHealth, the hospital on Whidbey Island, to make the arrangements. Outside of needing to wear a mask, having my temperature taken when I entered the hospital, and responding to a few questions, the experience was painless and pleasant.
The best part was waiting to see how the x-ray technician at WhidbeyHealth would react when she saw my hip to ankle pins, rods, plates, and screws. After snapping an x-ray or two, she exclaimed, “Oh honey, you have so much metal.”
“Yes, I do.”
And because the hardware is hidden and I was merrily skipping down the road to full recovery, I mused to myself, I could start moving into the denial mode, pretending there’s nothing wrong with me!
I wish that was a true statement, but every time I see Rich’s missing leg, I’m yanked back to reality.
After gathering the images to send to Harborview, the technician transferred them to a CD. When I got home, I placed them on a thumb drive that I could take with me on trips. I imagined being scanned at a security checkpoint, and the personnel freaking out, thinking explosive plates were sewn into my leg.
A week or so after my x-rays, I chatted with my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Nork, confident I was darn closed to healed. Nope. The top of my tibia, more technically, my proximal tibial nonunion, was being obstinate and not knitting together. With COVID-19 in full-swing, and the healthcare system in a tizzy, we decided to wait a few weeks before moving forward with any decisions.
In addition, I wanted to record my daily activities to better understand when I had pain and evaluate whether it was related to my increased activity or a physiological issue. I was unable to confidently respond to the level of discomfort I was feeling. More importantly, if I needed surgery, it would have to wait until the hospital got the go-ahead to schedule non-emergency procedures.
Two weeks later, after recording my activities and paying more attention to my achy leg, I had another call with Dr. Nork. This time, I opted to do a CT scan to see whether any aspect of the bone was healing. Once again, I went to WhidbeyHealth, and was in-and-out in less than an hour.
The prognosis shared by Dr. Nork in late April was no surprise. I had a bit of spot welding on the bone, but not enough to indicate it was properly healing. Plus, there was the continuing concern that the metal plate on the left side of the bone could be slightly flexing, and one day, could simply break, like a paperclip wiggled back-and-forth too many times.
A decision was made to have surgery on a Thursday in mid-May. Of course, as soon as I hung up the phone, I regretted my decision, but the die had been cast, and changing my mind wouldn’t heal the bone.
Read about the surgery in “Third and hopefully final surgery.”
Memorial Day weekend evokes memories
I knew within a few days that my third and final surgery was a success. Outside of the discomfort from the sutures, there was little to no pain, or more accurately aching. Sometimes after doing lots of gardening, my ankle ached, which could have been pain from my fractured tibia, broadcasting down to my ankle.
My reservations about having the surgery quickly eroded. I could confidently participate in every activity without the fear I was stressing the unhealed fracture, because it was now stabilized and pressed between two metal plates.
Regrettably, the excitement I felt about returning to normal were squashed by Rich’s slow progress. He could wear his prosthetic all day, and do chores around the house, but he moved slowly and awkwardly. He could easily walk forward but struggled to move sideways or take smaller, modified steps. Opting instead to stand in one place and reach to perform a task.
When I first started walking, I did the same thing, preferring to stand on both feet and only move when necessary. I would stand in front of the sink to brush my teeth, instead of pacing around the bathroom while the electric toothbrush did its job for two minutes. Or I’d gather everything that needed to go into a cupboard, and put them away at the same time, instead of dashing around the kitchen, tossing cooking utensils into one drawer, plates into a high cupboard, storage containers into a slide-out shelf in the island, and then back to the dishwasher to retrieve more dishes.
With warmer weather making appearances, there were numerous people out-and-about, walking, biking, riding motorcycles, and sightseeing. Passing by Deception Pass, we’d encounter congestion with people camping, hiking, relaxing along the beach, and peering from the bridge. In years pass, we would have pulled on our hiking boots, pumped up our bike tires, and placed our kayak on the car. We wouldn’t have hesitated to walk a mile to nearby Libby Beach, and then spend an hour or so climbing over the rocks along the shore to look up at our house on the bluff.
We’d moved to Whidbey Island to be more active. A sedentary life doesn’t suit either one of us.
The approach of Memorial Day, the anniversary of our accident, elicited memories, which were augmented by the photos that kept appearing on Facebook when we spent ten days sailing around the Canadian Gulf Islands. At the time, nothing was insurmountable from docking in precarious situations to rowing ashore in a rubber dingy. Okay, that’s not entirely true. During one shoreline excursion, the wind picked up, and Rich couldn’t row back to our sailboat. Fortunately, a couple in a motorized steel boat, spotted us faltering in the water, and gave us a tow!
The point being, we were both in great shape and nothing stopped us from enjoying life to the fullest.
As the days ticked off in May, I was reminded how my quality-of-life has been impacted. Instead of looking forward to the weekend, and doing physically demanding activities, like kayaking or hiking, I’d wake up disappointed, feigning gratitude for the opportunity to shop, clean the house, do the laundry, garden, and maybe take a 30-minute walk in which I’d have to pause every 3 minutes to wait for Rich to catch up.
This wasn’t the life I envisioned. I would rather be dead than wakeup disappointed every Saturday. That’s how I felt, leading up to Memorial Day.
There’s an idiom, “sleep on it,” and then make a decision. Magically, a good night’s rest, coupled with the realization that what seems unacceptable one day is simply the lens through which it’s viewed, and not necessarily consistent with reality. By Sunday afternoons, I’ll have a refrigerator full of freshly cooked meals and bowls of fruit on the island, bouquets of flowers throughout the house, bags of yard debris and trimmings ready to be brought to the recycling center, clean clothes in drawers and on hangers, and the satisfaction of starting the week with routine chores completed.
While our physicality and perspective on life has radically changed since our accident, our future is bright.
We live in a fabulous house, overlooking the Puget Sound, across from Vancouver Island, Canada. Throughout the year, an armada of ships travel by our house. Along with cruise ships, fishing vessels, barges, freighters, and pleasure boats, we often see submarines, aircraft carriers, and other ships from the Naval Station Bremerton and Naval Submarine Base Bangor.
Our “garden complex,” which was a two-year project includes a sizable garden shed painted to match our house with curtains made from Jacobean fabric in the two windows on either side of the double barn doors. A ramp in front of the doors makes it easy to drive our riding lawn mower in-and-out. Rich added linoleum flooring, shelves, and racks for our gardening tools, fertilizers, pots, soil amendments, and much more.
In front of the shed is an herb garden with parsley rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme, lemon balm, oregano, chives, and mint. Plus, I planted garlic last year, which is finally big enough to harvest.
Along one side of the shed is Rich’s water capture system, four 55-gallon barrels with fancy plumbing to capture water from the roof of the shed and greenhouse, siphon off sand, and redirect water from one barrel to another.
The back of the shed forms the main wall of a lean-to greenhouse, which is made from redwood and heavy plastic panels. Rich built it in early 2019 from a kit. The greenhouse is the perfect size for propagating seedlings, nurturing cuttings, and growing tropical plants like orchids and plumerias, the latter given to us by our neighbor who grows them in Hawaii.
A wire fence with solar lights on top of painted posts encircles our vegetable garden, which is located to the side of the shed and in front of the greenhouse. Before we’d left for our sailing trip in 2019, we’d planted vegetables and installed drip irrigation, which provided a steady supply of water. In the weeks we were hospitalized and in rehabilitation, everything grew like crazy and continued to flourish through the summer. Because we were in wheelchairs, we had to rely on our neighbors to harvest the crop, which included spinach, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, zucchini, pumpkins, beans, peas, radishes, carrots, onions, and much more!
Like the year before, we started seedlings in the greenhouse and in early spring had planted a handful of vegetables outdoors. By the time Memorial Day arrived, the garden was primed for success.
Meanwhile, we were enjoying a plethora of spring bulbs, including hyacinths, daffodils, and narcissus. Our perennials, lavender, irises, and columbines were starting to sprout, and a wealth of bees were busily gathering nectar and doing their pollination magic.
The only distressing aspect of the garden was our mason bees. We’d purchased a mason house in February and a box of “starter” bees, which we put outside when it got warmer. Several times a day, we’d inventory the bees to see how many hatched. With periodic spurts of cold, few hatched, so we purchased another box of bees. Once again, only a handful hatched, and those that did weren’t overly perky.
The ability to meander through our garden, wander out to the bluff, cook with ease, and do more during the weekends, such as breakfast at Denny’s on an early Saturday morning, followed by visits to Hobby Lobby for “important” craft supplies, Costco, and Fred Meyer (a beloved Pacific Northwest hypermarket), filled me with hope. It also helped that the spread of COVID-19 on the island had quieted. Donning masks, social distancing, and frequently using sanitizing wipes allowed people to start emerging from their quarantines.
With all this goodness happening in my life, in our lives, the Memorial Day weekend came and went with barely a ripple in the emotional scale…
Of course, having a garden full of flowers helps! The slide show are several of the bouquets that brightened our house this year.