Continuation of Reality Bites
Biding time until I was cleared to walk or more correctly, start to put weight on my left leg was akin to a little kid waiting for Christmas to come. You feel like it’s never going to come, and when it does, it’s going to be amazing, filled with gifts, scrumptious food, snow-tipped trees, carolers at the door, and welcoming friends and family.
And then it comes. While some parts are memorable, for the most part, the fantasy was better than the reality.
While I recognized that I wouldn’t be able to walk immediately, I wasn’t prepared for the fear that tempered my progress. I’d faithfully been going to physical therapy, where I rode a recumbent bike, did gentle exercises and stretches, and even picked up marbles with my toes. I’d also put a tiny bit of weight on my left leg when I was too tired to hold it up.
The cumbersome metal boot I had to wear was heavy and required that I bend my leg at a right angle to keep it off the ground. In late August, I started putting the heel of the boot on the ground when I stood to cook, brush my teeth, or rise from a chair. It didn’t hurt and made it easier to balance on my right leg.
Fifteen weeks after our accident, on Wednesday, September 4, I had a series of x-rays at Harborview, and was subsequently cleared to formally touchdown a toe or two and put a little weight behind them. Even better, I didn’t have to wear the hated metal boot any longer. I whipped it off, strapped it to the back of my wheelchair, and delighted in wheeling out of the hospital in my red-white-and-blue Converses with nothing encumbering my leg.
The plan was for me to gradually add more weight to the leg, initially, putting my foot flat on the floor with almost all my weight in the right leg. Twelve years earlier I had a similar situation after I’d fractured my pelvis in four places in a car accident. At the time, when I started to put weight on my leg, my calf would hurt, often cramping throughout the day. I’d have to pound the knotted muscle with my fist or stand, with tears in my eyes, until it relaxed.
Worse. Two to three times a week, I’d get a muscle spasm while sleeping. During a pleasant dream, I’d stretch out my leg or flex my foot, and bam! My calf would cramp, waking up Rich with my screams. It got to the point that I’d wake up throughout the night and make sure my foot was flat and not pointed down, which inevitably caused it to cramp.
Naturally, I was convinced the same would occur when I put the slightest bit of weight on my left leg. Not only had the muscle atrophy from not being used, but much of the tissue from the knee down had been sliced open to wiggle the bones back together and fastened with plates and pins. There was a lengthy incision by my ankle, another further up the leg, and a third that started mid-leg and wove around my knee.
Additionally, the gastrocnemius muscle on the back of my calf had been slashed open during the accident. While it wasn’t painful—or maybe obscured by perpetual throbs, stings, and twinges from the hip down to the ankle—I wasn’t convinced the muscle was healed and could sustain the weight of my body.
Until I started typing these words, it never occurred to me, did my orthopedic surgeon stitch up my calf or was it done by a plastic surgeon? I recalled a member of the plastic surgery staff, taking the bandages off my leg, and examining the gash to ensure it wasn’t infected.
According to Stacey, who spoke to both Rich’s and my doctors, they were concerned my leg could become septic because the gash had gotten dirty while lying in the road.
Like my accident in 2007, I was wearing clothes that I loved. In Texas, it was an orange Calvin Klein short-sleeve sweater with black trousers, and black mules. This time, it was tight black jeans, I’d purchased for riding Gatsby, a magenta, V-neck tee shirt with a jean jacket that was three or four sizes too large for me.
My father-in-law had given me the jackets ages ago, and no doubt, it was decades old when I received it. I’d reverse tie-dyed it, scrunching up sections of the jacket and wrapping the “scrunches” with dozens of rubber bands. The tortured garment was then submerged in bleach water, removing the color in unexpected ways. The jacket was super cool and had lots of meaning.
While I recalled asking the good Samaritan who stopped to help me remove the jacket, it was placed in the bag with the rest of our clothes, which Stacey threw away. It took several days for her to retrieve the bag, which by the time she got it, was an unsavory mess of bloodied clothes, debris from the road, and bugs.
I was also wearing a cool pair of Harley Davidson boots, which took me forever to find online. There were only a few pairs left in my size when I ordered them. While at a glance, the boots looked brand new, they had to be cut off my feet, rendering them regrettably unrepairable since they cut through the leather.
Rich’s barely used Harley boots were also crudely cut. It’s creepy to think one boot was cut from his severed leg.
Stacey brought our boots and helmets back to our house, which were then stashed in the garage. Weeks after coming home, we found them. The helmets were barely scuffed and were eventually given to Goodwill. We put the boots back on the shelf of our extra bedroom, along with our riding gear, including leather jackets, we’ll probably never wear again.
Even if we were to wear them again, we needed to learn to walk, Rich on one microprocessor and one flesh-and-blood leg, and me on one unaffected and one horrifically damaged leg.
Terrified was too mild of a word to describe my fear of my leg cramping. Therefore, the first week I was cleared to start “touching down,” I refused to do anything more than put my toes on the ground, using them more for balance than walking. I continued using my wheelchair; although, started to venture into the kitchen and bathroom with just my walker, knowing I could always use a toe or two for balance.
Within a few days, I was confident enough to transition from toes to the ball of my foot. Even so, most of my weight was in my right leg. I’d bend my leg off the floor whenever I need to take a step or adjust my stance.
It took a few weeks, until I was comfortable floating my left foot above the ground and putting a bit of weight on it. The next monumental phase was standing on both feet, which meant 50% of my weight was distributed through both legs and feet. However, I tended to lean towards the right.
The big test was whether I could lift my right foot off the ground and just stand on my left leg. For that, I needed my walker. And while it appeared like I was walking, in reality, I was gripping the walker like it was a lifeline, using my arms to hold me up whenever I took a step from my right leg to the left.
During this time, I was still going to physical therapy twice a week. They infused me with the confidence I could put weight on my leg. Unfortunately, the assurance it wouldn’t hurt was mine alone. What finally pushed me over the edge was the burning desire to go outside and garden, or more aptly, rip out the jungle that had taken over our vegetable garden.
It was the first year of our vegetable garden, and we enriched the sandy soil with muck from our neighbor, which consisted of horse manure and composted hay. When she scooped it into our trailer, using her mini loader, it was steamy, having composted for many years.
The muck provided more potent than the best fertilizers and everything grew with abandon. Because we couldn’t venture into the garden, nothing had been trimmed and tamed. Instead, fragile seedlings turned into 2- to 3-foot bushes, dried up, fell over, or continued growing once the produce was harvested by the neighbors. By late September, what was once beds, was a mass of tangled squash and cantaloupe runners, towering tomato bushes, seeded lettuce, kale, and spinach, toppling (and flowering) broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts, shriveled pea and bean stalks intertwined in netting, and beets the size of softballs.
Using my walker, I’d half hobble, half walk into the garden, madly ripping out plants, always on the cusp of falling over with the walker precariously upright between the rows, and me leaning over—primarily on one leg—with the other gingerly touching the ground like a tripod with one leg shorter than the other two.
Soon, the desire to destroy overtook the trepidation of standing on my compromised leg, and within a month, I was taking a few tenuous steps, one foot after the other, still holding onto the walker. More often, I’d scoot my left foot across the floor, putting little weight on it.
Yes, there was pain. Sometimes a lot of pain, especially my ankle, hip, and the top of my calf, where the tibia was struggling to mend. I was aware the metal plate, holding the bone together, could be flexing, and like a paperclip that is bent back-and-forth, could eventually and unexpectedly break.
I was perpetually making deals with myself, “Please let me finish tidying the vegetable garden before you break.” “I really need to weed my flower beds and trim the lavenders, and then I’ll rest. Don’t break!”
Rich also started venturing into the gardens. Because his balance was worse than mine, and he wasn’t good at walking, especially on uneven ground, he would help stuff the volumes of produce, weeds, clippings, and other garden debris into dozens, and dozens of heavy, black bags, which he’d take to the local recycling center.
A month after I was cleared to start walking, I was at the physical therapist, scooting along with my walker, when the therapist commented, “Grab one of those canes along the wall.”
“Umm, can I use a cane?”
It was a turning point. With one hand on the cane, and the other free to hold something, I could more easily do simple activities like filling the coffee pot with water, and carrying it over to the coffee maker, instead of scooting it across the counter, hopping forward with the walker, and then scooting the pot another foot or so.
Admittedly, it took a while to get the hang of using a cane, moving the cane along with the opposite foot. My first few days of cane-walking were herky-jerky. But it didn’t matter because I had a metal cane with four legs at the bottom, which didn’t need to be precisely placed on the ground to provide support. The cane was one of the many medical devices that people left at our house, during our stay in the hospital, along with wheelchairs, crutches, shower chairs, raised toilet seats, and much, much more.
Hazarding beyond the house
Two weeks after being cleared to walk, Rich and I ventured to downtown Coupeville, a few miles from our house, to stroll a few short blocks. It was an exhausting effort and we both became acutely aware of the benefits of curb cuts. The challenge of stepping up-or-down off curbs, especially for Rich who was essentially walking on one leg and a short stilt became a painful reality. What we could do effortlessly before now took thought and courage.
Nevertheless, the short—in length—walk up one side of the street and down the other reaffirmed that with time, we could resume many of our previous activities.
By the time our 17 year “formal” wedding anniversary rolled around on September 28th, Rich and I could walk short distances, me with a cane, and Rich with arm crutches and his prosthetic leg. While we could only go very short distances, it was a monumental improvement in our quality of life, starting with the ease of going grocery shopping. We could walk to the car, get in, drive to the store, walk into the store, shop—clutching a shopping cart for balance—check-out, and then wheel our groceries to the car.
While tiring, unloading groceries, and putting them away, took half the time. Ditto for cooking, doing laundry, getting the mail, vacuuming, washing the floors, and completing miscellaneous other household chores. While the effort was clumsy with me dragging a cane everywhere, at least, I was standing on two legs.
For our anniversary, Stacey invited us to lunch at Port Gamble, a meticulously restored and maintained town on the Kitsap Peninsula. To get there, we needed to take a ferry from Coupeville, across the Puget Sound, to Port Townsend. In the past, whenever we rode a ferry, we’d hop out of the car and trot up to the passenger deck. Rich, however, was convinced he couldn’t get out of the car because he couldn’t fully open the car door in the confined space. And even if he could manage the contortion to wiggle between the tightly parked cars, he wasn’t comfortable walking with arm crutches on a rocking ferry.
I was heartbroken. The 30-minute trip to Port Townsend is picturesque and relaxing in the spacious and often toasty-warm passenger deck. When the weather cooperates, you can step outside and enjoy the view from the outer decks.
As customary, when we arrived in Port Townsend, we stopped at McDonald’s to get Egg McMuffins and coffee. At least, some things didn’t change in our lives. The day was overcast, adding to the serenity of meandering through patches of towering evergreens interspersed with grasslands and occasional farms.
The mesmerizing calm turned to awe when we reached the Hood Canal Bridge, the fourth longest floating bridge in the world. Connecting the Olympic and Kitsap Peninsulas, the bridge eliminated having to take a ferry or drive 115 circuitous miles around the Hood Canal. That’s why the opening and closing of its draw span can make or break a schedule, whether trying to catch the Port Townsend or Kingston ferry, driving to work, running errands or sightseeing.
Because the bridge sits in salt water, the harsh and corrosive environment results in constant maintenance, and regular closures, sometimes for days, to make repairs.
Several years prior, we were taking a ferry from Coupeville to Port Townsend. A submarine from the Naval Base Kitsap was spotted. Everyone rushed to the bow to see the submarine. A young man unexpectedly shouted, “Oh my god, that’s my submarine. I’m never going to make it back to the base in time!”
Evidentially, it can take an hour or so for a submarine to pass between the open spans of the bridge. On the day we saw the submarine, we made it to the bridge before it opened.
This trip, there was no marine traffic in sight, and we made it to Port Gamble an hour before Stacey was expected. My heart once again dropped when I saw a festival taking place. Before the accident, we would have parked, and walked around the festival until it was time to meet Stacey.
Incapacitated, we found a handicap parking space opposite the General Store. Rich struggled to walk across the street, and plop down on a chair, just inside the door. While achy, I decided to walk around the store, and ventured upstairs—first time using stairs—to see the shell museum. I enjoyed the freedom to explore and to test the soundness of my metal-reinforced bones.
I also spoke with the owner of the store, who congratulated our progress and was empathetic to our plight.
When Stacey arrived, she took a picture to commemorate the occasion, our standing on “new” legs and our 17-year anniversary. We later framed the picture because it seemed monumental, despite the heartache.
Scratch Kitchen is next to the Port Gamble General Store. Once again, Rich struggled to walk, even a short distance. Nevertheless, the effort was worth the reward. We each ordered Reuben sandwiches, which have curative powers. Okay, I made that up.
While I rarely eat and have no craving for red meat, I can’t resist corn beef or pastrami. A Rueben sandwich is the perfect combination of salty, tangy, soul-satisfying goodness. We both ate half our sandwiches, saving the rest for the next day.
With the day young, we followed Stacey to Silverdale where we ventured to World Market to buy two large jars of mixed olives. They have the best price on mixed olives. I used them to make puttanesca, a savory combination of anchovies, garlic, tomato paste, olives, capers, and red pepper flakes, served over pasta. We purchased a few other items, but they were inconsequential compared to getting the olives. The closest World Market to Coupeville is either Silverdale or Alderwood Mall, both a ferry’s ride and 40 or more miles away.
Across from World Market was a movie theater. We got tickets to see Ad Astra with Brad Pitt. While Rich was in pain, once he settled into the recliner seats, he breathed a sigh of relief. Prior to our accident, I could count on one hand the number of movie theaters we’d visited. We either rented movies from a kiosk, received them in the mail from Netflix, or watched whatever was on cable channels.
It the first time either one of us had reclined in a movie theater. With both of us tired from spending time at Port Gamble and World Market, and satiated from lunch, it was hard to stay awake through the movie. Stacey further lulled us to sleep by buying us kid-sized snack packs with a little bag of popcorn, small drink, and box of candy.
After the movie, we hobbled to the car, said our good-byes, and drove to Port Townsend to take the ferry home. While waiting, we polished off the rest of our popcorn, drinks, and candy. Considering the alternative, we celebrated our anniversary, standing upright, and with the promise that time would further heal our physical and emotional injuries.
Learning to walk on a stilt
Prior to September, Rich had numerous appointments with a prothesis in Everett, a 15-minute drive once you get off the Clinton-Mukilteo ferry. On September 6, he received his artificial leg. I was envisioning a sleek device that would enable him to immediately grab a trekking pole and stroll out the door. Instead, it was a ghastly clunky fiberglass socket—the part that fits over the stump—with a metal contraption for a knee, strips of metal and fiberglass for the calf, and a surreal looking hard plastic foot that looked no different than what you’d find on the end of a mannequin leg.
I was simultaneously mortified, disappointed, and brokenhearted. Worse was seeing Rich’s face, contorted in anguish and pain as he put weight on his stump for the first day. White knuckled, grasping his walker, barely taking a step and then another.
The flashy marketing flyers from prosthetic manufacturers lied. There was no dashing down hills, playing basketball, or even easily strolling along picturesque streets in Norman Rockwell-esque towns. There was the pained look on Rich’s face as he cautiously took a step, holding onto a lifeline, his walker, and later arm crutches.
There was the horrible reality that progress hinged on pushing through the pain, frustration, and determination, and spending 15 minutes or more putting a special sock (or two) over his stump, pulling on a rubber liner with a Velcro strap he then needed to thread through the hard fiberglass socket. Once he slid his stump inside the socket, he tightened the strap.
While at Harborview, he enrolled in a study to determine the effectiveness of a mechanical versus microprocessor knee for new, older amputees. He’d lucked out and received the microprocessor knee, which supposedly was more responsive.
The “give” of the knee, however, depends on the prosthetist who adjusts the sensitivity and bend of the knee. For a new amputee like Rich, that meant providing little give with the knee flexing awkwardly or sometimes, barely flexing. As a result, Rich’s gait was more akin to throwing his leg forward and then taking a step, rather than a natural gait where you move over the foot with the knee bending and responding to unevenness in the ground.
In time, the mechanical knee could be adjusted to be more responsive, bending more naturally and helping Rich walk more naturally, uphill, downhill, on uneven ground, through snow and mud, at 90-degrees to support pedaling on a bike and kayak, and much more. For the first year, however, he struggled to walk because it’s painful and awkward, and using a prosthetic leg is akin to walking on a stilt. There’s balance and trust issues. When you have a foot, knee, and other part of your leg, your brain registers changes in terrain and adjusts your gait accordingly. None of this feedback exists with a prosthetic.
Some days, especially as the days got shorter, and weather colder, Rich would put on his leg later in the day or sometimes not at all. Unfortunately, because we live in a hilly area and walking trails aren’t even, Rich wasn’t motivated to go outside and take a walk. Instead, he stayed inside, at his desk, kitchen table or couch, trying to make sense of the miasma of his life.
Not only was his thinking fuzzy, but everyday activities were confusing. And doing anything physical was taxing. Just walking from the master bedroom to the kitchen was tiring, let alone working in the garage, gardening, building stuff, or even putting away the dishes. The latter wasn’t physically challenging, but he couldn’t remember where anything went. I’d find utensils, dishes, and cookware in the oddest places.
He couldn’t keep track of appointments and determine the time necessary to travel to them. He’d have an appointment at two in the afternoon with his primary care physician—just 15 minutes away—and think he needed to leave by noon. I’d watch him stare at his computer, not knowing what to do, and shuffle the same bills and paperwork back-and-forth on his desk, oblivious as to whether they’d been paid, needed to be filed or tossed.
Some bills were paid twice. Others didn’t get paid until he got a second notice. Many medical expenses were unnecessarily paid, even though we’d both met our deductible months prior.
It didn’t help that I was regaining my mobility from using my NordicTrack in the mornings, and Nike Club exercises in the afternoon. And once I was confident with standing on my left leg, there was no holding me back from cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, gardening, and easily racing up to the mailbox to grab the mail in rain or shine.
While I was in the garden, tearing out wilted and dying vegetation, Rich was struggling to stand upright in the uneven soil. It was difficult for him to hold large black plastic trash bags as I stuffed in yards of squash, pea, bean, and cantaloupe vines, corn stalks, overgrown bushes of rotting green tomatoes, and bulky stems of decaying kale and brussels sprouts.
Our entire vegetable garden had turned into a jungle. Prior to the accident, we’d created garden beds using composted horse manure and straw, barely composted kitchen waste, commercial garden soil, and the dirt/sand/grass that had been removed to make way for the garden complex, a shed, greenhouse, and fenced in vegetable garden. We’d rototilled, planted, and then installed drip irrigation.
Everything grew like crazy, including hundreds of un-composted cantaloupe and tomato seeds from our kitchen waste. Our neighbor found several huge cauliflowers in one bed, rows of sprouted lettuce, spinach, and kale, dozens of beets, onions, and zucchinis, and giant radishes and carrots. We also had hundreds of dahlias, which the neighbors picked so I could enjoy them in the house.
The rest of the garden—Shasta daisies, irises, wall flowers, hyacinths, hydrangea, lavender, salvia, daylilies, and much, much more—was equally overgrown with nothing having been trimmed from May through September. We ended up taking dozens of bags of garden debris to the recycling center over the course of several months.
Even though Rich was gaining mobility and able to tackle more challenging activities, it was considerably slower than me. I was able to walk at a normal pace while Rich hobbled along, adding to my exasperation and disappointment.
Because I was struggling to sleep, and felt like I spent more time laying awake, listening to Rich snore, than getting quality rest, I was extremely on-edge. And it didn’t help that I was rarely tired with a ridiculous amount of energy and determination. No matter what I did throughout the day, going to sleep was a chore. I tried listening to meditation and nature sounds. I’d read until my eyes closed, but as soon as the lights were turned off, they popped open.
When I’d finally fall asleep, usually after taking a pill along with 10 milligrams of Melatonin, I’d wake up in the middle of the night ruminating, angry, and unable to fall back to sleep for hours.
It didn’t help that I’d previously “penciled in” the activities we were planning to do on the artsy calendar on our refrigerator. I was constantly reminded of what we couldn’t do, including roller skating, watching the Whidbey Island Roller Girls, attending a friend’s Canada Day, enjoying my company’s summer picnic at the Woodland Park Zoo, visiting the Whidbey Island Fair and Anacortes Shipwreck Festival, and zooming to Oyster Run on Gatsby.
So much of what I wanted to do, I couldn’t do, not because of my inabilities, but Rich’s. This was causing me horrific consternations, especially on weekends when I’d wake up refreshed, done with the workweek, and ready to strap on my hiking boots, hop on a bike, lace up my Converses to sightsee, or pedal around a lake in our kayak.
Every Saturday, I’d unfairly scream at Rich until my voice was hoarse and I was exhausted from the emotional outburst. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t quiet my rage.
Tiny, but monumental steps
As we approached October, and started to see shimmers of normalcy, we instigated our homage to the holidays, starting with planning our cookie and candy concocting extravaganza. We usually make a dozen or so different types of cookies and eight to ten different candies. Planning takes a few hours but gathering and shopping for the ingredients can take a few weekends, especially with having to drive north to Bellingham or south to Marysville to WinCo, a grocery store that offers bulk ingredients, including large chunks of broken 10-pound bars of commercial Guittard chocolate.
I then spend a week making the cookie doughs and refrigerating them. Usually the weekend before Thanksgiving, I get up early, clear and clean every counter in the kitchen, and roll out my first batch, sugar cookies. Once done, we’re off to the “races,” plopping, rolling, shaping, and cutting the doughs.
Rich oversees baking, removing the cookies from the racks, and putting them in containers. While it’s usually a stressful and demanding day, it was doubly so after our accident. Rich had to take many breaks. I had to resort to standing on my right leg and leaning against the counter, because my left leg hurt. Both of us were tired from the exertion. Fortunately, Stacey showed up around 2 o’clock in the afternoon to help us power through, and later assist in washing the many cookie sheets, cooling racks, containers that held the doughs, rolling pin, cookie cutters, spatulas, and other baking accoutrements.
With everything cooked, cleaned up, and containerized, we changed clothes and went to a local Mexican restaurant for dinner. Stacey also took our picture, and a few days later, surprised us by assembling three pictures, taken six weeks apart with us in wheelchairs in Anacortes in August, using a cane and arm crutches at Port Gamble in late September, and standing on our own at the Mexican restaurant in Oak Harbor in mid-November. Progress!
A few weeks later, we ventured to Stacey and Shawn’s house in Bremerton to spend time with family and share gratitude at Thanksgiving.
In late December, we ventured down to Portland, Oregon to visit with family. Stacey had arranged for us to stay at the Marriot in Camas, Washington, which was a few miles from everyone’s houses.
We got up at early and had an uneventful trip down to Portland. With a few hours before we were scheduled to see my cousin Bobby, we stopped at a Dollar Tree to buy fun gifts for the grandkid’s. We then called Bobby, who was scrambling to do his laundry. His time management is a mystery. He doesn’t work, infrequently ventures out, and lives in a studio apartment the size of our master bedroom and bath yet is rarely ready to meet.
We usually go to lunch, and I’d chosen a restaurant in the Pearl District, a pleasant walk from his apartment or short jaunt by bus. Because it was overcast with threats of drizzle, he wanted us to pick him up. We zoomed by his apartment and I gave him a call. A few minutes later, he appeared at the front door, and then froze, petrified by a girl with a small dog on a leash.
Over ten years ago, he’d stumbled over a dog and broke his ankle. He’s now cautious around dogs, and often uses a cane, probably believing it makes him look distinguished rather than needing it for balance. Realizing he wasn’t going to move until the dog was a safe 20 feet away, I hopped out of the car and coaxed him to take a few steps. The weather, however, made him hesitant. He was concerned about the rain and the possibility of getting wet.
I’m sure he saw me roll my eyes. Finally seated in the back seat, we were ready to go. No sooner had we left the curb, he exclaimed, “Who was last in your back seat?”
“They left a bottle of water.”
There are bottles of water everywhere in our cars. It’s a mystery where they originate. Some we put in the car doors for emergencies. Others were toss in the back after attending an event or place where we were given a bottle of water. Rich is notorious for grabbing a bottle of water on the way out the door. Many times, they roll off the seat, get wedged somewhere, and extricate themselves when we stop suddenly.
With the matter of the stray water bottle clarified, I used my phone to help Rich navigate a mile or so to the Pearl District. Of course, it being late morning, the area was already teaming with yuppies, preppies, foodies, socialites, and everyone that fell into a hipster classification. We fortuitously found a parking spot three short blocks from the restaurant, a trendy burger joint with an industrial vibe, complete with recycled tables, open beam ceiling, and an assortment of quirky eating areas with funky light fixtures.
Within seconds of getting out of the car, Bobby was on edge, believing it was going to rain and his precarious health would be threatened. “Do you want me to get you an umbrella,” I barked. I wanted to scream, “You clueless nincompoop. Did you notice that Rich can barely walk and is in pain, and I have a thoroughly screwed up leg and a Frankensteinian number of incisions and wounds, and we’re not whining about the weather?”
But I didn’t. I simply allowed my rage and his obvious oblivion to our maladies fester.
Once inside, Bobby resorted to his usual babble, debating the merits of each dish, while wondering whether they could be customized since he has stomach issues. Earlier, we learned he had a colonoscopy, which evidently, months later, continues to be an incapacitant.
I didn’t want to share that since I’d already burned through my out-of-pocket medical expenses for the year, I had a colonoscopy three weeks earlier, making the procedure an inconvenience rather than expense. Outside of the unpleasant purging the night before, I was back to work less than 24 hours after the procedure. My recovery was hours not days, weeks, or months. Having always had a touchy tummy, it was no surprise they found intermittent colitis, along with a benign polyp. No biggie.
Finally, Bobby made his selection as did Rich and me. It was then time to find a table, which was a bit challenging since the restaurant was crowded, and Bobby wanted a quiet booth so we could talk. We settled for what was available, part of a long table against a back wall. With the hamburgers and fries served on large trays, I needed assistance bringing the food and drinks to our table, so I asked one of the people at the counter to help. I didn’t want to imposition Bobby!
Meanwhile, Rich was being fussy. He was already confused because of the brain trauma but often regressed to full anxiety when in new circumstances or tired. And he was certainly tired from getting up at 4:30 a.m., driving to Portland, and having to walk several blocks.
I don’t know what triggered my outburst, but I couldn’t contain my agitation much longer with Bobby chattering about his meal and how he was going to get fat, needing some sauce, more napkins or something inane like a straw. I don’t recall if I lost decorum when Rich was at the table or after he went to the bathroom, but I let Bobby know that I was dealing with more than I could handle. I raged about my distress over Rich’s confusion and memory loss, and his inability to walk more than a few minutes. I reminded him that I was also recovering, which was “no walk in the park” with pain, stinging, twinges, clumsiness, inability to sleep, and the reality that my tibia wasn’t properly healing.
Bobby’s response wasn’t empathetic. Rather, he was offended by my fury, and shared how unhealthy it is to be angry. This advice coming from a man who’s incessantly fixated on a myriad of hypochondriac health issues, fearful of going outside when the weather is iffy, and wary of dogs who might innocently brush against his legs.
Embarrassed by my outburst, I excused myself when Rich returned from the bathroom, As I came back to the table, I could hear him telling Rich how I must be difficult to live with. I wanted to scream. Yes, I’m difficult to live with, but having someone who makes excuses and perpetually pampers themselves is worse.
With lunch finished, the conversation once again turned to the impending drizzle outside. I grabbed Rich’s keys, dashed out the door, and scrambled to the car—missing the handful of raindrops that fell during my ten-minute walk. As I pulled up to the restaurant, the rain started in earnest, the drizzle turned to a 5-minute shower.
I was glad when we dropped Bobby back at his apartment, after having an awkward chat in the car, while he waited for the rain to stop, avoiding the possibility of getting wet during the 10-second walk from the curb to the front door of his apartment building.
Unexpectedly enjoyable holiday
With it being early afternoon, we drove to our house in Sherwood to meet with our tenant. As expected, the landscaping looked unkempt, then again, it was winter. Usually, Rich would double-check to ensure there was Styrofoam covers on the faucets to prevent them from freezing, but it was effort enough just to get out of the car, walk up the slightly sloped driveway, step onto the walkway, and knock on the front door.
We then drove to Camas to check into our room. It was a spacious handicap room, which fortunately had a wheeled office chair because Rich forgot to bring his walker. The office chair would have to suffice when he removed his leg and needed to get from the bedroom to the bathroom.
The room was lovely with a L-shaped, pillow strewn sofa, stylish coffee table, and a small kitchenette when you first walked in the door. The bedroom area was spacious with several comfortable chairs, and a large, brightly lit alcove with a sink and lots of fragrant lotions, shampoos, and other goodies.
It was certainly not Motel 6. After resting and chatting with Stacey who showed up to help us cart our stuff into the room and collect the gifts we’d brought for Christmas, we went downstairs and walked across the parking lot to the belt sushi restaurant. We almost always get sushi when we visit family. It’s a tradition that can’t be broken, even if it took us three times longer to shamble into the restaurant.
Afterwards, still brimming with energy, we redeemed a coupon at Cold Stone Creamery because the holiday season is a time for indulgence!
The next morning, we rose early and drove to Multnomah Falls in the Columbia Gorge. We were able to park close, using our handicap pass, and walk to the bottom of the falls for a picture opportunity. It felt good to be a tourist, even if Rich struggled with each step on the damp walkways.
Our next stop was Crown Heights, which was windy, but not windy enough to keep Rich in the car. We enjoyed the view, and then headed to Gary and Sheryl’s house in Gresham for brunch.
Rich met Sheryl in the 1970’s. Despite their having not spoken for thirty or so years, a year before we moved to Coupeville, they resumed their friendship as if there had never been a gap. At the time, we met Sheryl’s second husband Gary, who like Sheryl is personable, upbeat, and accomplished.
Following our accident, they were one of the few people to venture up to Whidbey Island to visit and provide support.
Going to their spacious house in December was like visiting a resort. Rich and I could relax and drop the pretense that everything was okay. Gary and Sherly catered to our every need. We enjoyed a relaxing meal, complete with champagne to celebrate our continued recovery. Rich ate-and-ate, savoring the food and forgetting that he’d become a picky eater since the accident, constantly complaining that everything tasted the same. At Gary and Sheryl’s house, he practically licked the plate clean!
Easing into Christmas
The next day, Christmas Eve, Stacey, Rich’s first wife June, and her grandson (our phony-baloney grandson) Sawyer visited. They’d been kinda’ kicked out of the house, since Bryan and Chiemi, Sawyer’s parents were busily preparing the holiday feast, which wouldn’t start for several hours. Plus, Maisie, their baby girl, was napping.
It was great catching up on news and feeling supported by family. I’ve always had a great relationship with June, who is the mother of Rich’s two children. She and her three sisters were raised on Kauai by Japanese parents. One of their grandmothers was a picture bride.
In the 19th century, Japanese, Okinawan, and Korean men migrated to Hawaii to work on the sugarcane plantations. They would send their pictures back to their native countries in hope of being matched to a bride. Go-betweens would assist in making the matches, by sending pictures and details of prospective brides back to the men. The matches were akin to arranged marriages in that neither party had a choice in who ended up being their partner.
As dusk approached, we journeyed to Bryan and Chiemi’s house, and were joined by Chris, Shawnie, Coen, and Caitlyn for a lavish dinner, followed by boisterous present-opening by four kids under age seven, and six adults who were equally enthusiastic.
I also brought a menorah since Hanukah was smack dab in the middle of Christmas, and I never miss the opportunity to light the candles, which border on ritualistic zeal for me. Each day, I carefully choose the color combination and order of the candles, and then dip the ends in wax to align them in the menorah. I relish looking at the candles throughout the day and can barely wait until it’s dark to light them.
Hanukah for me is candles. I don’t care for latkes, sufganiyot, gelt, dreidels or other Hanukah traditions. It’s all about the light, getting brighter with each passing day.
The next day, Christmas, we wandered back to Bryan and Chiemi’s house towards noon to nibble on leftovers and continue conversations that ended the night before with the excitement of ripping open packages, and kids dashing around, playing with their new toys.
I’d brought my hand-cranked pasta maker and provided instructions to Stacey and Bryan on how to make pasta from scratch. Stacey also had her hand-cranked pasta maker, but the one time she tried to make pasta, she hadn’t run it through the rollers until it became satiny smooth. Making pasta is about cranking, and cranking, and cranking until the dough is smooth and pliable, and then tightening the rollers until you reach the last level.
It’s time-consuming but rewarding.
The next day, we drove home, thoroughly satiated from visiting with family, playing with grandchildren, and testing our capabilities. Without Stacey and Chris at our sides, a day after our accident, and throughout our hospitalization and rehabilitation, we never would have “bounced back” so quickly.
In the same vein, June and her family in Hawaii sent cards and packages, which boosted our spirits. And long-time friends like Gary and Sheryl cheered our successes and found “excuses” to visit.
It’s was truly a magical close to the worst year of our lives.