Two days ago, I got back from a week in Oregon, where I was staying at my mom’s house as she recovered from knee surgery. While I was gone, North had their own medical adventure.
The alarm went off at 5:30 so I could catch an 8:30 flight. Medford is small airport, so it always takes two or three flights to get there. I was lucky to only have one layover, in Denver. As I mentioned earlier it was my first flight since covid. The last time was in February 2019, when Noah and I flew to Boston to tour Boston University.
The flights were uneventful. The most notable thing about the first one was that there was a passenger dressed as a jester, complete with the stick with ribbons on it (but no hat) and the most notable thing about the second flight was that I spilled half a can of seltzer all over myself. I also managed to read about a third of Stephen King’s latest, Fairy Tale, which was a nice way to pass the time. There was a tight connection between the two flights, but I made it and arrived in Medford early in the afternoon local time.
My sister Sara, who had been looking after my mom the previous week, picked me up at the airport and took me on a series of errands. We went to Home Depot for mulch because, though she lives in Davis, California now, she and her husband haven’t sold their Ashland house yet, and they’re trying to keep the property looking spruced up. We spread the mulch and she got the sprinklers watering the lawn and fruit trees and then we tried to go to Trader Joe’s, but it was closed because of a power outage.
We went to Mom’s house and socialized for a while. Sara had more errands to do and while she was gone, I took an hour-and-fifteen-minute nap—I’d been up since what would have been 2:30 a.m. in Oregon and I was exhausted. I woke around seven and I could have easily gone back to sleep for the night, but I needed to adjust to Pacific time, plus Sara had made pizza from a kit, so I got up and had dinner with Mom and Sara.
Starting when I was in my early teens, Mom, Sara, and I had pizza every Friday night. My mom was a single working mom, and she was in grad school to boot so she was busy. I’m surprised we didn’t eat takeout more than once a week honestly. The Friday night pizza tradition lived on after my mom married my stepfather and then in my adult family, but it’s been a long, long time (maybe almost forty years?) since it was just me, my sister, and my mother around the table eating pizza on a Friday night. It was nice, like old times, except completely different.
Sara showed me how to help Mom with her PT exercises and how to massage her leg and where things were in the house and then they watched a movie, but they started it at 9:30, and I was considering it an accomplishment to stay awake until ten, so I had a shower and went to bed.
Weekend: Settling In
The next morning, I woke a little after five, which was earlier than I would have liked, but not surprising. I stayed in bed until almost eight, first trying to get back to sleep, then looking at Facebook and blogs and texting with Noah. He’d sent me two dozen pictures he took at a wildlife sanctuary he’d visited with Ida, the other boarder at his house, and some of her friends. There were koalas, kangaroos, capybaras, an ostrich, a lemur, a red panda, a Komodo dragon, a crocodile, and other animals, and the photos were gorgeous. It made me happy he’s getting out and doing things besides going to class and hanging out at his house because he tends to be a homebody.
Sara got up around eight and once we’d both eaten breakfast and talked some she went grocery shopping for me and Mom before heading back to Davis. I went for a walk and got a latte and a small chocolate cookie from a nearby coffeeshop and picked up some things Mom needed from the drug store all the while admiring the mountains that ring Ashland. There’s one arid ridge and one covered with evergreen trees. I knew there were wild blackberry canes all over Ashland from previous visits, but I was surprised to learn they’re still producing edible (and quite tasty) berries in mid-September. I sampled them all week during my rambles.
Over the course of the day, I helped Mom with her exercises twice, massaged her leg, folded laundry, swept the leaves off her porch and driveway, and walked with her to her mailbox (which is in a bank of them a short block from her house). She also folded some laundry and said with satisfaction, “We’re getting things done today.”
It rained a little in the afternoon, which is not so common in Ashland until the fall, but it was almost fall. The equinox was my second to last day there. Fall did seem closer in Ashland than at home anyway. It was cool enough for long sleeves most days and a few vanguard trees were already turning red or orange. Mom and I settled down with our books in the living room and read while the dryer hummed, and rain ran down the windows that look out on her back patio. It was very cozy, and she even dozed in her chair for a bit.
I made chili for dinner, and we watched State of Play, which was the movie Mom and Sara had started but not finished the night before while I was in bed. (Mom wanted to see how it ended so we started it over from the beginning.) It’s a twisty journalistic thriller, good but not great. Because it takes place in D.C. I was occasionally forced to say things like “No one calls it the subway, it’s the Metro.”
Sunday was similar. I did little chores around the house, read, and took a longer walk. I wandered through a cemetery, walked along the railroad tracks, saw a community garden, and ended up near the same coffeehouse where I’d been the day before. This time I got chocolate ice cream with slivered almonds and whipped cream. I made a cream of mushroom soup and salad for dinner, and we watched the first episode of Ken Burns’ The U.S. and the Holocaust. I so seldom watch broadcast tv it felt strange to have to be ready at a specific time. Mom had been experimenting with different levels and timing of her painkillers, trying to balance pain relief and side effects, but as a result of skimping on it, she had some pretty bad pain that evening.
Monday to Thursday: A New Routine
Monday was the first morning I managed to sleep until a time that started with 6, which correlated to feeling rested for the first time, and that was convenient as I started working that day. There was no reason not to, as I had my laptop, a little office with a door that closes (which is more than I have at home) and enough time. Sara left an extra monitor for me, but I found I missed having a mouse. It also would have been nice to be able to figure out how to get my laptop to communicate with Mom’s printer because I am the sort of old school person who likes reading things on paper and marking them up with a pencil.
Monday morning while I was out on an errand to drop off an application for a handicapped parking permit at the DMV (a failed mission, as it turns out that location is closed due to staffing shortages), Mom went for twenty-five-minute walk with her walker alone. One the one hand, I was encouraged she was able to do it, but on the other I wished she’d waited for me to come home so I could accompany her, just in case.
Mom had a physical therapy appointment that day and the good news was her pain and mobility were improving and the swelling in her leg was completely gone. The bad news was she and the therapist thought she wasn’t getting enough flexion in her knee and that scar tissue might be the culprit. They decided to reduce the frequency of PT appointments until she can get a doctor’s opinion about whether she needs a manipulation (or worse, more surgery) so as to save some of the appointments her insurance covers for after further treatment, if needed.
That night I made a stir-fry for dinner, and we watched a PBS show called Animals with Cameras, which is just what it sounds like. We saw footage from cameras mounted on cheetahs’ heads, seals’ backs, and baboons’ necks. The point is to learn something about the animals’ behavior, sometimes just for the sake of science, but sometimes to learn how to possibly alter it (as with baboons who raid farmers’ squash fields and who are in danger of being shot if the scientists can’t get them to stop).
The days rolled on. I worked two or three hours a day and took walks, short ones with Mom, and longer ones alone. I got coffee or tea most days, sometimes at the coffeehouse, once at a Dutch Brothers kiosk in a parking lot because I understand that’s a quintessential Oregon experience, and sometimes at a Starbucks inside a supermarket because it was the closest coffee-selling establishment to Mom’s house. I made a homemade tomato sauce with garden tomatoes a neighbor brought by to eat on whole-wheat spaghetti Tuesday, burgers with side dish of cauliflower, broccoli and carrots with cheese sauce on Wednesday, and a curried zucchini soup Thursday night. We finished watching the Holocaust documentary series and watched some more Animals with Cameras. Whenever Mom introduced me to anyone (a friend from Peace Choir who came by, a neighbor we encountered on a walk, her housecleaner) she told the person I was her daughter who came “all the way from Maryland” to stay with her. She raved about my cooking, even though it seemed pretty run of the mill to me.
By the end of the week, Mom was walking much better, not using her walker at all and only using her cane on walks outside the house, but she was still concerned that if she did need a manipulation, it would set her recovery back.
Meanwhile, At Home
Things were more eventful… Beth and North got the new covid booster on Saturday, the day after I left, and North was tired and achy for days afterward. On Saturday they made a plum pie for the Takoma Park farmers’ market annual pie contest (held for the first time since covid), but by the next day they were feeling too unwell to attend, so Beth delivered it for them. It didn’t win but it was delicious—Beth bought and froze a slice for me so I could have it when I got home. North missed school Monday and Tuesday, mostly because of lower back pain. Then late Tuesday afternoon, North lost the ability to urinate.
If you’ve been reading this blog at least two years, you probably remember this affliction. We still have catheter supplies, but they had expired, I suppose because they can’t guarantee sterility beyond a certain point. Beth and North went to the emergency room, where they had an excruciatingly long wait to be seen. They had an ultrasound in the evening and an MRI the following morning to rule out physical causes. As expected, there was nothing. They arrived in the late afternoon, and it was the middle of the night before anyone would use a catheter to empty North’s bladder so they were quite uncomfortable.
Both Beth and North brought phone chargers to the hospital because this was not their first rodeo in the ER. At first, they couldn’t find an outlet but then North did so I was able to communicate with them throughout the evening and the next day. I felt a little guilty going to bed that night when I knew Beth was likely going to be up all night in the ER (and she was) but not as much as I would have in the past. We learned two years ago how to spell each other by taking turns on hospital nights and while I expected and hoped North would be at home when I got home three days later, I knew there was a small but non-zero chance that I’d be taking a turn sleeping (or not sleeping) in their hospital room at some point.
What I didn’t expect was that Beth and North would be in the ER, not admitted, from Tuesday afternoon until the wee hours of Thursday morning. Apparently, one of the doctors thought they could not be sent home with catheter supplies without retraining both Beth and North on the procedure and this could not happen unless they were admitted. And they could not be admitted because the hospital was over capacity. By the second night, I was starting to feel guilty I wasn’t there. North managed to get several hours sleep here and there but Beth didn’t sleep for forty-three hours, when they were finally trained (without being admitted after all) and sent home with supplies.
North slept most of Thursday and stayed home Friday as well. Beth made arrangements with the school for them to be able to use the nurse’s bathroom when they return next week.
Friday was North’s half-birthday. We always celebrate the kids’ half-birthday with cupcakes, and this year was no exception. Early in the week I asked North to save me one and they said I had to eat one on the right day, so I got an almond flour cupcake with rose frosting from the natural foods store near Mom’s house and sent North a picture of it, as proof I’d honored the day that they tipped closer to seventeen than sixteen. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that their birthdays and half-birthdays occur on or near the equinoxes as the Earth is making a similar transition.
Thursday to Friday: Departure
Thursday evening Sara returned to Ashland, with Dave and Lily-Mei. They were all attending a wedding on Saturday, so they were staying the weekend with Mom (who was also going). Sara drove me to the airport Friday morning. My flight was delayed by twenty minutes, then forty minutes, and finally an hour and twenty minutes, which was concerning because my layover in Denver was exactly that long.
There was plenty of time to observe my fellow travelers before we boarded the plane. I think the prize for most interesting went to the young man wearing a graphic t-shirt with a plague mask (but no mask for our current plague), a necklace with a plastic bird skull, leather bracelets with hardware, and knee-high leather boots with a spider design embossed on them. He was painting with watercolors in a tiny leather-bound book.
I had a window seat and the flight from Medford to Denver was beautiful, with many mountains and canyons. I didn’t read at all and just looked at the landscape unfold beneath me. As the plane approached Denver and then as we sat on the tarmac waiting for an open gate, various passengers with tight connections commiserated about their chances of making their flights. Mine was scheduled to take off about ten minutes after my seatmate’s, so I don’t know if she made her flight to Wisconsin, but I did make mine to Baltimore, even after getting turned around in the airport and having to figure out how to take a train from one concourse to another.
I wasn’t the only passenger with a late flight (or even the last one to arrive) and they held the plane for us. I got to the gate about ten or fifteen minutes after the plane was supposed to have taken off. Then there was a lot of confusion about seat assignments, with someone in my assigned seat and someone else in the next seat the flight attendant thought should be empty. I ended up seated between a woman in a Mennonite-style prayer cap and a man in a ball cap who was cursing and loudly protesting the delays and who later tried to order more than one alcoholic drink (you can only have one). Once the plane took off, he was calm and friendly, but I was nervous about him for a while.
We ended up sitting on the ground for an hour after I was seated because another passenger had to be removed from the plane under mysterious circumstances. Rumor was spreading through the plane that he was on the wrong plane—but how could that even happen? At any rate, he wasn’t belligerent, but he did appear impaired in some way, possibly sick, drunk, or on drugs. I saw him while the flight attendant was taking me all over the plane trying to find a seat for me and his seatmate piped up that she thought he was in the wrong seat. Another mystery—why would you even look at anyone else’s boarding pass—but she said she had.
But the happy ending was my second plane landed around 11:45 p.m. in Baltimore, only about thirty-five minutes late, and even though she was still dragging from having missed a whole night of sleep a few days earlier and I told her I could take a Lyft home, Beth was there to pick me up. Our family may have been scattered between Australia, Oregon, and Maryland on the day the light and dark were equal but being with Beth always helps me feel balanced.